Movie Review - An Inconvenient Truth

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Written by Gonzalo Moreno

An Inconvenient Truth is a pet project of Al Gore, the man who, as he self-deprecatingly puts it, “was going to be the next President of the United States.” Influenced by an undergrad course he took at Harvard, Gore has, over the course of decades, put together a talk/presentation about global climate change which he has delivered to over 1,000 separate audiences.

The presentation is rooted on solid scientific material and is highly critical of policymakers and the media, who, Gore argues, are responsible for the world’s slow response to the crisis. The evidence presented by Gore is sometimes depressing to watch, but the documentary also contains optimism and uplifting moments. The movie starts with Gore’s standard introduction (believe it or not, the man can be funny) and ends with the applause at the end of the talk. Most of what you see and hear involves Gore standing in front of an audience, delivering graphs, pictures, and the occasional punchline.

That makes this film a bit of an oddity. For most people, it’s that movie about climate change; critics dismissively call it Al Gore’s PowerPoint presentation. Strictly speaking, An Inconvenient Truth is neither of these. While the presentation is the backbone of the movie, and said presentation deals with climate change, it would be impossible to commercially release a movie that’s just some guy delivering a lecture. That kind of thing is on TVO on Saturday mornings and no-one watches it.

The reason that An Inconvenient Truth works as a feature film is that it is, in fact, a movie about Al Gore. At many levels, this should sound all the alarm signals. During the movie, Gore at times comes across as sanctimonious, know-it-all and irritatingly self-centered, like only a highly successful politician can be. He rides a nuclear sub, he treks through Greenland and Antarctica and he pronounces the phrase “My friend [insert world-renowned figure here]” way too often.

That’s the bad. Yet there’s plenty of good in it too. Gore’s presentation is punctuated by voiced-over accounts of his personal life, including the death of his sister from lung cancer (Gore’s family then stopped growing tobacco like they had been doing for decades) and the infamous 2000 Florida meltdown. These accounts give structure and evolution to the movie, and, while they sometimes sound a bit corny or out of place, they do a really good job of illustrating and summarizing what Gore has been saying for the previous 15 minutes or so. These snippets of life according to Gore are entirely relevant to what he is discussing, so they give the movie a drive and a direction that might have been lost among graphs, stats and slides.

This brings out the film’s strongest point: this is not a movie about the science of climate change, although Gore includes plenty of fact and figures. The science, as is discussed in the movie, is sound, established and undisputed, and Gore is not out to extensively educate people on it. This is a movie about human beings: about how we look at things, and about how and why we act in consequence. It denounces and it engages; it is at the same time harsh, terrifying and optimistic.

This should not minimize the issue at hand. Climate change is of crucial importance, and Gore minces no words at emphasizing it. But the movie is not preachy or haughty, it’s not even as pretentious as you’d think Gore’s character would demand. It is down-to-earth and surprisingly personal, and passionate without bordering on zealotry. If you’re a sceptic on climate change it might not change your views and if you’re already convinced it probably won’t instil you with a newfound self-righteous passion for advocating change. What it will do, whether you’re in the first or the second group, is make you reflect on the reasons behind your position, and help you reach your own conclusions. That’s pretty good praise for a PowerPoint presentation.

An Inconvenient Truth will be screened in War Memorial Hall on Tuesday, October 17th at 7pm, as part of the ongoing Docurama series sponsored by the CSA and McLaughlin Library. Admission is free for students and $4 for non-students.

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