The Age of Stupid Reviews
Somewhere in the innards of The Age of Stupid is a really, really good idea. But Franny Armstrong beat, pummelled, tortured, and scarred it until it was a twisted, unrecognizable, hateful, murderous shell of itself, the insane stepbrother of 12 Monkeys that was kept locked in the basement and fed nothing but dead rats until it was forty-five years old, then kicked out of the house and left to forage for itself. As expected, it turned to murder and cannibalism, but was too incompetent even for that, getting knocked over the head by a little old lady and turned into the police, who shot it in the temple, putting it out of its misery, rather than letting it survive. Okay, that last bit only happened in my fantasies. Instead, it turned to making movies and The Age of Stupid, a clunky, Neanderthal piece of Michael-Moore-style "documentary" filmmaking with all the subtlety of a homeless schizophrenic pissing on a cinema wall, was the result.
Armstrong (McLibel) posits a future in which Earth is a destroyed shell of itself. An archivist (The Usual Suspects' Pete Postlethwaite), one of the last surviving humans on the planet, is surfing through data from the year 2008 to try and figure out where it all went wrong. (Plot hole #1: if the Earth went so far downhill so fast-Armstrong names, of course, the most hysterical numbers she could for the timeline-who developed all the cool technology Postlethwaite's character is using?) Yep, that's pretty much it.
Before I go any farther with the excoriation (I can't really call it a criticism-well, okay, I'm criticizing the presentation of the science, I'm excoriating the larger frame into which she dropped it, which is atrocious), and with the full knowledge that putting this here is probably worse than useless, in the interests of full disclosure: reviews are not written in a vacuum. I am not, and have never been, a simple climate-change denier, and I have favorably reviewed other works that take climate change as a given. My record of same goes back at least to 2004 if you feel like paging through Amazon reviews, but a much more recent film made my 25-best list the same year The Age of Stupid made my 25 worst: Chasing Ice. Before dismissing the below as simple anti-climate-change propaganda, at least go read my review of that one so you have a basic idea of where I'm coming from. That said:
I alluded to the film's first, and foremost, problem above. I can't really fault Armstrong for it in one sense, because anyone who depends on forecasting statistics in order to posit a system of belief is affected by it. There are those who say America's system of Social Security is fully funded through 2075, too. Using forecasting statistics is a very tricky thing to do correctly, and the #1 thing you can do wrong when using them is to take those numbers as use them as fact. If you live in America and are old enough, you may remember the environmental PSAs that ran on MTV in the mid- to late eighties. According to those, the Brazilian rainforest was going to be gone by 1985, the ozone layer by 1990. Oddly, my wife is still as pale as ever despite occasionally going outside, and I haven't noticed a sudden shortage of wood anytime in the last twenty years. Armstrong makes the same mistake those MTV promos did-she not only takes forecast statistics and uses them as fact, but like most people who make "documentaries" that are focused more on marketing hysteria than they are in imparting knowledge (note: the use of the term "marketing" there is not casual), she cherry-picked the most hysterical numbers she could find. Now, I will admit that it is possible that the extremists are right and the moderates are wrong. It may happen at some point. It has never happened where the environment is concerned, so I'm willing to accept playing the odds and listen to the levelheaded scientists, not the wolf-criers who are more interested in publicity than actual science.
A worse problem is that, like Michael Moore, Franny Armstrong makes absolutely no effort to be in any way even-handed here, which is why I keep using "documentary" in quotes. Armstrong set out to make a scare film, and she amplified the scare-film effect with the framework into which she stuck her actual (and, once again, cherry-picked) documentary footage; if you were unaware that this was a scare film rather than a documentary based on the actual footage, well, the sci-fi trappings of the frame should leave you with absolutely no question. I am normally of the stance that reviews are opinion and not fact, and thus everything is a question and they can't be "right" or "wrong", but in this, I have to assert that this is fact, not opinion, and that Armstrong telegraphed this without any ambiguity whatsoever thanks to the framework she used in this movie. She meant this to be a scare film. It's the ecodoco equivalent of Larry Fishburne, back when he was still called Larry, at the end of Spike Lee's School Daze, striding across campus with a big bell yelling "WAKE UP!" over and over again. The problem is, well, that's the weakest scene in an otherwise unrecognized classic. (And another thing I will admit to in this review: I might have rated it half a star higher were it not for Armstrong's kind of obvious nods to La Jetée. And the offense that I took in that regard is opinion, and YMMV, and I am totally okay with that, but if you question that this is a scare film and not a straight documentary, we don't have that much to talk about here.)
I am in no way dismissing any of the underlying points that Armstrong is trying to make here, not even the seemingly-controversial wind-farm bit (I've been hearing anti-wind-farm arguments for thirty years, and personally, I find the jury still out) that has been chewed over in various net communities I'm part of for years now. But Armstrong, in this movie, posits the most extreme solutions to these problems as the only solutions to these problems, and she posits that these most extreme solutions need to be enacted right now or we are headed for inevitable planetary destruction. In this, she is no different than anyone since, oh, Constantine, and I'm sure the Neanderthals had their doomsayers, and so on back until the first quadrupeds walked out of the ocean. The problem we have now is that instead of the doomsayers being easily dismissible because the mechanisms they are positing simply do not exist, this current breed of doomsayer is perverting actual problems, and instead of giving us something we can all work from, giving us something that is guaranteed to alienate as much of the viewing audience as possible. I have seen this film called propaganda. That is incorrect. Propaganda, by definition, is aimed at convincing people who may be on the fence, or who are of another mindset and might be converted. The Age of Stupid, like the twin demons of American media, Glenn Beck on the right and Jon Stewart on the left, is simply preaching to the choir, and doing so in a way that is as inflammatory as possible. I give zero-star reviews for two reasons: either I did not finish a piece of media, or that media is patently offensive for easily-explainable reasons. I hope, in this review, I have imparted why this movie-which I did completely watch-got a zero. Easily one of the most offensive movies I have ever encountered. (zero)
Let me first state my stance in relation to climate change. I have no allegiance to either the environmental lobby or to global corporations that behave so frightfully. I know terrible things are done in the name of big business, I believe that climate change is probably happening. I guess you would call me a pragmatist. In other words I should be the exact target for this film. I am the undecided so come on, convert me... but don't just give me one side of a poor argument. The entire film is an exercise in the virtues of environmentalism and the villainy of corporations, and to me that's just as bad as watching an in house Halliburton funded movie on Dick Cheney rescuing kittens. That may be a little over stating the point but the issue here is that surely this topic is a massive grey area and nowhere near as clear cut as the film makers' project. A case in point being the unfinished health centre in the African village: Couldn't the makers have shown a bit of positive investment in one area and then a big 'but....' followed by evidence of multiple failures to invest? Furthermore, Shell is apparently quoted as saying that it removed its engineers on the basis the area was too dangerous and the risk of kidnap too high. That sounds pretty ethical to me. Would you want to work for a company that overlooked these issues?
I also take issues with the doom laden news reports chosen to evidence the case. The makers simply picked (predominantly speculative) news reports that suited their agenda. With most of these it was impossible for the viewer to know if they were genuine or not. I recognised some of the reports as BBC news readers so I assume those reports to be genuine, although not given any context owing to the short time given to each. I cannot say if the others were authentic or not, nor if the relevant news network was reputable. This issue is compounded by the film's disconcerting combination of fact and fiction. Clearly the very beginning, the apocalyptic imagery of global capitals, was speculative (unless I have missed some pretty important events), but after that it was hard to tell what was factual and what was fiction - which I feel is a dubious method of film making. Equally dubious is the opening statement that the film contains 'widely held scientific views'. To me, that is something of an arbitrary statement. What is 'widely held'? How many people holding the same view constitute 'widely'? For example, I think 5000 people are a lot. I'm sure there are 5000 that follow the teachings of David Icke. Does that make his beliefs 'widely held'? And moreover, does it make the Queen of England a lizard? Give me evidence! I'm not saying you are wrong but prove to me you are right.
I have to be honest and say that I found this film appalling primarily due to its failure to offer an objective point of view. I have already said this but I am the exact person this film should be aimed at, I am the undecided. And all it did was make me feel like I was watching an amateurish, patronising propaganda. Like this was all an attempt to indoctrinate me. This was kind of trash that is the cinematic equivalent of a primary school film deigned to scare 8 year olds into not leaving the tap on.
In my ever so humble opinion the only people I can see this film appealing to are people who already subscribe to its message, kind of preaching to the converted. Also, I am truly surprised at the reviews I have read and, dare I say it, somewhat suspicious of a lot of them. But I will let you draw your own verdicts of those.
In conclusion I offer you this. Ultimately you yourself will find out if the film's projections are true. It is not something that concerns me personally as I have a terrible degenerative genetic disorder that means I will be dead by then, so it is not my problem. Also because of this horrendous disease I will not have children so I need not worry about them. I will have no legacy. And that is what it comes down to. If you are worried about the future your kids will inherit, don't have those kids in the first place. That way you can afford more fuel for that monster truck you bought because you didn't need 4 doors. You may consider that a flippant comment but ultimately climate change is a man made issue and if we deal with the root of the problem then we're off to a good start. We have too many people. About one billion people are born every ten days, apparently. That was the population of the whole world in 1800! And this whole thing is expediential. So I offer you this: If you have more than two kids, more than you and their mum (who they will replace), then you are adding to the problem - so stop grumbling.
As a caveat I should probably add the following. Owing to a combination of a need to enjoy every precious moment left on this doomed earth of ours and a desire to stop watching this pap I switched off when the Frenchman was chain sawing through trees in the snow (a curious image of this hero given the message of melting glaciers and nature synergy). After this point I have no knowledge. It might become the greatest film ever. If this is the case I have one message for the creators and that is 'Stop making films that start terribly and get better'. If the film continues as it began then my message starts the same but is shorter: 'Stop making films!'.
I love the absurd parallels drawn in one man's life -- a national disaster hero, pro-environmental, yet an oil company worker. Ridiculous. If you can, watch it. Gorgeous nature views and real-life feeling of what is to come with climatic changes in the future.