An Inconvenient Truth
2006Director: Davis Guggenheim
Cast: Al Gore, PowerPoint
l Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth is a difficult film to review, in part because it’s barely a “film” at all, at least in the usual sense. The structure is essentially that of a filmed academic lecture interspersed with occasional vignettes from Gore’s life, in which the former veep ruminates on his past and the internal forces that drive him to do what he does—namely, go around the world telling people about the dangers of global warming, complete with slides. That An Inconvenient Truth is so riveting—and, in truth, somewhat terrifying—is at least as much a credit to its star and his message as it is do the film “makers” themselves.
The premise of the film is devastating in its simplicity—the planet earth is overheating, and the consequences will be disastrous. As in, biblically disastrous. Gore himself refers to the natural world after the melting of the polar ice caps as “a nature hike through the Book of Revelations.” Natural disasters like hurricanes, typhoons, and tsunamis will increase substantially—in fact, Gore argues, epic storms like Katrina can already be linked to global warming. Moments like this add to the hypnotic quality of An Inconvenient Truth—even the most fascinating science lectures become more meaningful when footage of desperate and displaced New Orleanians can plausibly be linked to the lecturer’s topic. Apart from storms of increasing magnitude and power, global warming may also produce crop destruction, breaks in the food chain, and water. Lots and lots of water. Perhaps the most terrifying part of the film is in Gore’s understated but dramatic presentation of what a map of the world would look like after the poles have melted. Large portions of the Asian subcontinent, northern Europe, and the northeastern American seaboard, among others, could easily be sitting under the ocean.
Not that any of this is dramatically new. I personally can recall hearing global warming doomsday scenarios in school since at least the sixth grade, and probably before. What’s new is the brilliant way in which Gore and the filmmakers link their semi-apocalyptic vision of the future with hard science. Temperatures are increasing exponentially, and the increase is astonishingly recent. If nothing else, a viewing of An Inconvenient Truth should persuade anyone who’s not an oil lobbyist that the science of global warming is not, in fact, in any serious dispute (at least on the fundamental level—there does seem to be legitimate debate about the When, but not the If, of our impending ecological doom). The fact that the Bush administration still refuses to recognize the existence of global warming as a scientific fact, let alone advance serious policy initiatives on how to deal with it, does not bode well for the future.
But back to the original question: is An Inconvenient Truth a successful film? Yes, remarkably so. Al Gore himself is the main reason why. After all, an academic lecture is only as good as the lecturer, and Gore is an engaging, humorous, deeply passionate speaker. Whatever his faults may have been on the campaign trail (and he had many), he has clearly mastered the idiom of teaching. Candidate Gore was often accused of lecturing to the voters, usually by political journalists bored with policy details and easily seduced by the down-homey, backslappin’ Texan on the other ticket. But what was a criticism (and, in retrospect, a shockingly short-sighted one) during a campaign has become a virtue in Gore’s post-elected office life. The man can lecture, and the depth of his sincerity practically jumps off the screen and yanks the viewer in.
Director Davis Guggenheim (Deadwood) throws in a few snippets of Gore at his farm, Gore on the lecture circuit, Gore on the phone, and Gore shaking hands with VIPs into the film, mostly for pacing (and unexpected comic relief—the sight of the man who came within a godawful Supreme Court decision of the American presidency taking his shoes off at airport security just like any other post-9/11 schmoe is both grin-worthy and deeply humanizing). But there are also moments of real insight and self-reflection during these scenes, as Gore talks about topics ranging from the Harvard professor who first piqued his interest in global warming to his sister’s death from lung cancer. By the end of the film, Gore’s obsession with global warming and the environment no longer seems like an admirable but somewhat quirky personal tic so much as it does the intellectual, political, and moral culmination of a life spent engaged in the world. And that, above all, is what makes An Inconvenient Truth not just an enlightening documentary, but a truly remarkable film.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need to start turning off a few lights.
An Inconvenient Truth is now playing in theaters across the United States.
By: Jay Millikan
Published on: 2006-06-15