Co-directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Nicholas de Pencier and Edward Burtynsky, here is an undeniably colossal filmmaking effort, shot across 22 countries. It purports to be a “cinematic meditation” on the havoc humans have wreaked on the environment, yet the style-over-substance approach reduces these eco-conscious contemplations to a mere exercise in aesthetics, without any social or political context.
A proposed geological epoch, the concept of the Anthropocene suggests that we are now in the age in which human activities have had a significant impact on the planet’s ecosystems. In short, the face of the Earth is literally changing due to humanity’s impact. Throughout the film, the camera glides over shocking sights of environmental destruction, from barren farmlands to deforestation. The grandeur of the drone camerawork, however, becomes distinctly uncomfortable: this film is more interested in showing ruins than probing their causes or solutions. A particularly vile sequence orgasmically sets a day of marble quarrying in Carrara in Italy to Mozart’s Don Giovanni. The activity is environmentally troubling, yet the film seems unable to not revel in its empty beauty.
Furthermore, the ASMR-esque narration by Alicia Vikander constantly pits “the Earth” and “the humans” against one another, as if environmental destruction is an equal-opportunity act for all mankind. Lumping individuals and conglomerates under one collective “human” umbrella does little to shed light on the climate crisis. At one point, in suggesting how “humans” have altered Earth’s surfaces, the film cuts from Kenyan people dumpster-diving in a humongous trash site to the christening of a tunnel in Switzerland, as if these events are somehow equivalent. (Let’s not forget that rich countries have been exporting their waste to poorer nations for years.) The film, however, is sure to enjoy a long shelf-life in school classrooms.
• Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is released on 3 September in cinemas.