Weathering the storm
Effective documentary focuses on global warming … and the current political climate
Whether or not An Inconvenient Truth is a good movie is very nearly beside the point. Its prime concern—the catastrophic threat of global warming—is of such enormity and urgency that issues of art and entertainment matter only insofar as they aid (and do not hinder) the central presentation.
Al Gore’s slide show/lecture on global warming, an audio/visual presentation he says he has delivered “a thousand times,” is in a sense ready-made for motion pictures. But Davis Guggenheim’s film version is not just a filmed record of Gore’s multimedia lecture. Rather, it is a nicely accomplished instance of that documentary genre known as the film essay.
As such, it is itself primarily a documentary about global warming. But it is also a documentary about the lecture and, just as crucially, about the contemporary struggle to communicate significant information and generate effective political action in light of that information. Thus, the powerfully illustrated lecture on global warming also encompasses a mini biography of Gore and a running commentary on the vagaries of political discourse in its own confused and easily distracted times.
One element of the film/lecture, for example, is a brief animated cartoon that satirizes a society in which global warming is “solved” with the placebos offered by “our handsomest politicians.” That bit of pointed irony contributes to a trenchant account of global warming while also taking a jab at the politics of image-spin and laying groundwork for a later exhortation on behalf of a renewed “political will” among contemporary Americans.
The “inconvenient truths” of the film are above all what is already established and known about the reality of global warming. But here they are also insights into, and against, a political process that is floundering in distraction and illusion.
The more personal portions of An Inconvenient Truth may well contribute significantly to a revision and correction of Gore’s political image with the American public. But with or without Gore, and with or without Guggenheim’s cinematic skills, this is a picture that everyone should see.