Since cinema took the reins as societal story-teller, it had always sought to draw a clear identification of good versus evil from our dominant narratives. From black-caped thieves to Nazi’s to Godless Communists to Al-Qaeda, Hollywood’s movie plots always made a clear distinction between who was wearing the white hat and the black hat, enabling us to cheer when good conquers evil. As we have presently had a lull in clear global baddies to structure our value system (maybe Russian oligarchs?), Hollywood has recently tapped into the environmentalist narrative to personify evil through “Man the Polluter”. A happy ending implies that man’s pillaging of the planet will result in serious consequences thus reinforcing our need to live more sustainably.
The Risk-Monger took his family to see the film Noah on Easter Sunday. Without taking offence to the Biblical revisionism or what could be called the “most expensive animal rights film ever made” (the film’s director, Darren Aronofsky, is an atheist vegan), I was disappointed to see that man was portrayed as raping a burnt out, exhausted planet (until Noah was given a magic seed, all landscapes were portrayed as barren wastelands, trees were stumps and cities were places of savage exploitation and abuse). Humans, as descendants of Cain, felt that they were put on earth to dominate, extract and wilfully destroy (and they were suffering the consequences of their exploitation). They mined out the land, burnt the soil and not only ate the earth’s creatures, but brutally ripped limbs off while these poor animals were still living. All of this merely left them in a state of desperation to find more resources to satisfy their massive appetites for consumption (in an intellectually cute interview on CNN, Aronofsky agrees this can happen again due to climate change).
Noah though came from a different line, not from Cain, but from Seth (the lesser known third son of Adam and Eve who was portrayed as living with nature, ie, the lineage of good men as environmentalists), and he was thus the epitome of sustainability. In the film, Noah lectured his son for picking a flower, continually reminded everyone on the need to protect all of our Creator’s creatures, and concluded that the only way to save the planet was to allow man to go extinct (God is a radical environmentalist). His wife, Naameh, practiced herbal medicine (none of that pharmaceutical industry witchcraft!) – they were portrayed as good people because they did not take from the earth.
When the leader of the descendants of Cain declared that, just as man had always done in the past, they would find a solution (with science, industry and the military), we knew they would fail. We cheered each time Russell Crowe put on his “Gladiator” gloves and chopped down evil, pillaging men (do vegans condone such violence?). We smiled when Anthony Hopkins redeemed his earlier film roles by satisfying his cravings for a berry (apparently the only acceptable food for descendants of Seth).
Spoiler alert! Things do not end well for the descendants of Cain. As this is a film about second chances, we now have to decide whether we have done well with God’s decision to give man a reprieve. The conclusion is that it is time to change our ways before we once again irreversibly plunder the planet. We must first start with eradicating industry, science and the military (I assume there are enough berries for all). This reinforces the American-based Creation Care evangelical environmentalism.
Hollywood has identified this simplistic environmentalist narrative as a model for good versus evil. Industry is a source of evil, exploitation and destruction – and has been made to seem ‘dastardly’. The innocent facing down this evil (the environmentalists) are fighting for what is good in man – standing up to inequality, injustice and pollution. Technology and science dehumanises while adherence to nature restores a certain noble purity. Simplistic indeed, but innocent? Hardly.
But Risk-Monger, this is just a story. Don’t take things so seriously – people go into cinema’s to be entertained and can understand that it is only a movie. Nobody cares about the moralising.
Well, no. We draw our values from the stories we tell. Children grow up taking in messages from the stories they hear in order to judge the world around them. The messages they are receiving is that industry and man’s actions on the planet are a force of evil and these values are hardening with each reinforcing bias. If these are just stories that don’t have an influence, then why has there been such an objection to smoking being romanticised in our films?
Depicting man’s interventions on the planet in film as a source of evil is not entirely new. The film, Avatar, shows how humans could colonise another planet to extract minerals and use the military to try to wipe out an innocent indigenous population (that communed with nature by plugging their ponytails into the earth to feel its biodiversity). When industry and the military decided to try to blow up the tree they all lived in, things did not go well for humans and all of their clever technologies. The happy ending was when humans were taken prisoner and sent packing back to their barren planet. Avatar is still the highest grossing film of all time. Or then there is the prequel to Planet of the Apes (where the evil pharmaceutical industry caused the mutations that led to man’s ultimate subjugation). Someone please advise me of a recent film where industry is portrayed as a force for good!!!
Maybe Hollywood will wake up to the silly political narrative they have been drawn into. Then again, maybe not. Before the Noah film began, the Risk-Monger watched a trailer for Hollywood’s upcoming blockbuster – the remake of Godzilla – a destructive creature born from man’s nuclear testing. If man is not evil, he certainly is pretty stupid.
At least berries are in season.