Pump documentary review: it’s a gas

Pump green light

You will be shocked, I am sure, to discover that Big Oil has put its profits before all else (including you).
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

So, remember how, in Who Framed Roger Rabbit, the big bad villainy was tied up in how Big Oil was bent on destroying Los Angeles’s wonderful trolley system in order to force everyone to drive automobiles? That really is basically what happened in the United States after World War II: Big Oil had to find new ways to ensure its revenue stream, and mass transit that didn’t run on oil (such as electric trolleys) got pushed out in favor of those that did (such as buses), and in favor — oh dear god yes in favor — of cars. Pump covers that nasty historical tidbit. And if you’re old enough to remember the gas lines of the 1970s — I have vivid memories of being a little kid sitting in the car with my dad waiting a loooong time to fill up his Ford Fairlane — then Pump will remind you that that economic debacle, too, was about oil companies screwing over the American consumer.

Big Oil is such an easy target, yet this cheery documentary focuses its snarky swipes — Jason Bateman (Horrible Bosses 2, Identity Thief) is the narrator, so you can probably already imagine the tone — on a very narrow range of its corporate-sociopathic issues. There’s nothing here about global warming. The environmental dangers of fracking are barely touched upon; mostly the film is worried about how fracking simply doesn’t produce enough oil for the investment it requires. There isn’t even really anything about how the global oil supply is, inevitably, pretty close to being tapped out. Instead, this here is a muckraking bit of journalism — from Joshua Tickell and Rebecca Harrell Tickell, who’ve made a few other docs critical of Big Oil — that caters almost entirely to the “I ain’t no liberal commie treehugger, but why is it so damn expensive to fill up my Hummer?” crowd to explain why the gas is so damn expensive, and how that can be fixed.

As it turns out, the why is all about corporate monopolies. As it turns out, there are other fuels besides oil-derived gasoline that the completely ordinary, non-liberal-commie-treehugger car that is probably sitting in your driveway right now could be running on. Fuels that are cheaper than gas and more sustainable to produce, and that can be made locally… and in some cases are already being produced locally as byproducts of other industrial processes! But those fuels are getting locked out of the market. Because the oil companies cannot abide competition. And because the car companies — at the behest of the oil companies — hobble your car’s computer to prevent it from being able to utilize those fuels (though there’s an easy fix for that).

You will be shocked, I am sure, to discover that huge corporations have put their profits before all else (including you).

I kind of love how, um, pragmatic this movie is. It might be the best example of how a liberal commie treehugger documentary can appeal to the basest American motivations — like a fear of a billion Chinese suddenly getting all middle-class and wanting cars and hence on the verge of stealing all the oil that’s left that should by rights be ours, because America! — in order to get people riled about about things that are pretty liberal-commie-treehugger concerns. That’s a fairly brilliant move on the part of the Tickells. Also Jesus! Because of course there’s a couple here — married and business partners — who appear to sincerely believe that God Himself wants them to offer an ethanol option at the gas station they own. Because monopolies make baby Jesus cry, I guess. (They probably would, in fact.)

And of course, even liberal commie treehuggers can get frustrated at the price of gas. What other option is there in most of the U.S., now that the trolleys are gone?

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.
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