Wake Up Call
“If celebrity is a credit card, then I’m using it,” George Clooney has said about his political and social activism (such as raising awareness about the genocide in Darfur), and good for him. If I had the money and soapbox he has, I’d be mouthing off too, if I thought it might win some hearts and minds. It’s refreshing to see smart celebs use their clout for something that actually matters, instead of using it to plump up the gossip coverage on what used to pass for the news.
Leonardo DiCaprio is racking up his celebrity charge account on environmental issues, and I admit I was a little afraid, before I saw The 11th Hour, which he produced and narrates, that it would be more celebrity puffery, a kind of fashion-forward chihuahua-in-a-handbag chic accessory, than anything approaching the substantial. But I am delighted to report that this is not the case. This is a serious, sober, straight-ahead talking-head style documentary designed to wake us all the hell up — those of us who aren’t already awake and scared shitless worried about where the world is heading — to the multipronged ecological and social disasters looming over humanity.
So: This ain’t bread-and-circuses infotainment intended to distract us from the very real, very dangerous problems we face as a society. It’s exactly the opposite, and absolutely terrifying. “Not only is it the 11th hour,” states one of the numerous and impressively credential experts here, “it’s 11:59 and 59 seconds.” And this documentary, connecting the dots of the soylent green future we’re facing if we don’t do something real damn soon, is the alarm clock going off. Our last best chance to fix things before we render our planet uninhabitable by technological civilization — or, perhaps, any level of human civilization — is upon us, and the collection of policy experts, eco-aware CEOs, scientists, cultural historians and scholars, activists, and others (there’s a complete list of the more than 50 interviewees at the film’s official Web site) lay out the case succinctly and in a profoundly affecting way. This isn’t just a litany of the interconnected catastrophes that are exploding upon us: global warming, rising population, collapsing infrastructure, the end of cheap oil, corporate hegemony, governments that ignore their citizenries; it’s a powerfully emotional appeal designed to highlight just how sick are our biosphere and global society, and a call for all of us to begin to make the changes desperately needed now to avert the end of everything we know.
That sounds both alarmist and impossible, yet the calm and hopeful voices here also point out that the challenge is not a technical one but a matter of how we think on a fundamental level: we may need to reimagine human civilization and change how we think about ourselves and our relationship with the planet, but this will be an exciting endeavor, if also a difficult one. (Explore the action initiatives connected to the film at 11th Hour Action.com and Leonardo DiCaprio.org.)
The “problem” with this film is the problem with all the many similarly themed films we’ve seen in recent years: it will inevitably sing only to the choir in a media environment that avoids dealing with complicated issues in any way that can reach to the mainstream. This is the kind of film that should be broadcast on prime-time television, not relegated to arthouse cinemas. It will be up to those of us who understand the great value of this important film to take this as an opportunity to spread the word to the many, many more of us who need to get the news.