On Earth Day our thoughts turn to environmentalism which thanks to current events seems to be taking on increasingly dire importance with every passing day. The following eco-conscious films seem especially relevant.
Soylent Green (1973)
Starring Charlton Heston and combining police procedural drama with science fiction, this drama about the murder of a prominent businessman in a dystopian future characterized by over-population, depleted resources, extreme inequality, dying oceans, and massive food shortages that necessitate the population to live primarily off the titular processed food product, has one of the most famous and iconic endings in science fiction, won the Nebula Award for Best Dramatic Presentation, the Saturn Award for Best Science Fiction Film, and is now widely considered a genre classic. It’s also a cautionary tale that seems disturbingly close to being realized.
The China Syndrome (1979)
This nail biter about a television reporter (Jane Fonda) and her camera man (Michael Douglas) who discover that a nuclear power plant is covering up serious safety problems. They try to expose the truth with the help of one of the plant’s shift supervisors (Jack Lemmon who the Academy Award for Best Actor in the role). Upon its release it was denounced by the nuclear power industry as “complete fiction” and “a character assassination of the entire industry.” Twelve days later Three Mile Island happened. Seven years later, Chernobyl.
Princess Mononoke (1997)
Written and directed by the legendary Hayao Miyazaki (Spirited Away, Ponyo) the title of this anime epic of historical fantasy is literally translated as Spirit/Monster Princess. It follows the young Emishi warrior Ashitaka who journeys West to undo a curse laid upon him by Nago, a demon turned into a boar. Along the way he becomes embroiled in the struggle between the Forest Gods and greedy humans who consume the forest’s resources. It was the first animated feature film to win Best Picture in the Japan Academy prize and Roger Ebert named it one of the best films of the year.
An Inconvenient Truth (2006)
Directed by Davis Guggenheim about former Vice President Al Gore’s campaign to raise public awareness about global warming via a slide show, it won the Oscar for Best Documentary Feature, and has been credited with raising international awareness about climate change. It is also now a staple among a lot of science classes, though not without controversy since right wingers and climate change deniers absolutely hate this movie and Al Gore with the kind of passion normally reserved for people who talk during movies.
This computer animated comedic sci fi production, about a trash compactor robot left behind to clean up the garbage dump known as Earth in 2805, centuries after humans have abandoned it, was another jewel in Pixar’s crown with its extraordinary visuals and nearly dialogue-less first half, but it’s also a parable about mindless consumerism, restoration, responsibility, and what it means to be a human.
The Cove (2009)
Directed by National Geographic photographer Louie Psihoyos, this brutal documentary shows dolphin drive hunting in Taiji cove. Some of the female bottlenose dolphins are captured to be sold to aquariums but most of them are slaughtered and cut up for their meat. (Warning: the dolphin killing on screen is very graphic and very, VERY disturbing.) Since the dolphin meat contains high levels of mercury this isn’t just extreme animal cruelty but a public health issue as well. It caused an international firestorm and won the 2010 Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.
This Academy Award nominated documentary written and directed by Josh Fox examines communities affected by natural gas drilling or more specifically fracking. (You may have read about it in the news lately.) Fox spent time in Wyoming, Colorado, Texas, Utah, and more interviewing residents of these areas about their chronic health problems and water pollution in their areas including one memorable scene of a guy who was able to light water from his kitchen sink on fire. It won a Special Jury Prize at Sundance and the movie and Fox were denounced by the International Petroleum Association.