By Adrienne LaFrance,
Regardless of your political affiliation, you have to admit that it’s good to see Al Gore beardless and moving on with his life, six years after the 2000 presidential election. Gore is pursuing what he’s called his life’s calling; spreading the word about global warming and its threats to civilization.
Last night, I finally saw “An Inconvenient Truth,” Gore’s film (directed by Davis Guggenheim) about global warming. I was half-expecting Michael Moore meets “The Day After Tomorrow,” but what I got was an informative and engaging history of the global climate and the human effect on it. Still, you’d have to be crazy not to wonder if this isn’t Gore not-so-subtly setting the stage for a 2008 presidential run. And many have speculated just that.
Throughout the film, image-boosting autobiographical aspects muddle the environmental message. Gore offers us anecdotes about his son getting hit by a car (with the awkward segue: that’s how he realized the Earth was so precious). Viewers hear him talking about working on the family farm as a boy, and how his father stopped growing tobacco because it was wrong.
Repeated shots of Gore typing up his environmental lecture on a sleek Apple laptop come across as grossly overdone product placement. Just as blatant are shots of Gore talking on his cell phone in which his gleaming, gold wedding band is practically screaming, “Look at me! I’m a family man!” from every angle. A cartoon clip (unmistakably Matt Groening) comes across as contrived (“Look, young voters! I watch reruns of ‘Futurama,’ too!”)
An out-of-place montage about the 2000 election that ends with something along the lines of “that was a difficult time” is simply embarrassing. But Gore reminds us that “political will is a renewable resource.” How about presidential campaigns? Are those renewable too?
Some may argue that Gore’s personal anecdotes make the film more interesting and less like a collegiate geology lecture. Perhaps these devices worked well in the book, but in the film they stray from the message unnecessarily. After all, when Gore really gets going on the facts, the film is riveting.
One can’t help but wonder if the environmental message might have been more powerful and direct had it been delivered by the scientists themselves. On the other hand, would the film get as much attention (or attract as many viewers) without Gore’s name attached to it? And to be fair, Gore knows what he’s talking about. He’s invigoratingly passionate and tells a compelling- if scary- story.
Gore deflates the claims that recent hot temperatures (the hottest 10 years on record occurred in the last 14 years) are just part of a natural cycle. He uses a timeline that spans 650,000 years, thanks to records that came from air bubbles trapped in glaciers.
Using the graph, Gore shows that the recent spike in temperatures, directly affiliated with a spike in carbon dioxide levels, is far above any of the cyclical fluctuations of the last hundreds of thousands of years. He goes back ice age after ice age to show that today’s levels are high off the chart. Furthermore, predictions for the future are practically a vertical line up the graph.
The staggering predictions for the future are fascinating and deeply worrisome. If we don’t change our ways, Gore says, the world can expect intensifying hurricanes and tornadoes, deadly draughts, a 20-foot rise in the sea levels that will submerge cities across the world leaving hundreds of millions of refugees, and much more. It’s not pretty.
But no politician’s speech would be complete without a little bit of hope at the end — Gore points out the need to stop somewhere between denial and despair, and take action. And while the end credits, which include a list of what you can do to save the Earth (“If you believe in prayer, pray”) come across as stomach-churningly cheesy, the film is definitely worth seeing.
Whether or not Gore will use this exposure to segue into another political campaign is relatively unimportant because his message about the environment is not to be ignored.