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AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL Ditches the PowerPoint for Powerful Environmental Destruction (Sundance Review)

AN INCONVENIENT SEQUEL Ditches the PowerPoint for Powerful Environmental Destruction (Sundance Review)

There’s an inherent hopelessness to the existence of An Inconvenient Sequel. Its mere being means that Al Gore’s 2005 wake-up call was a failure. It failed to change the right minds. It failed to push a larger public to hold the feet of climate-change-deniers to the electoral fire. It failed to save the world.

It’s a charge that Gore seems to both accept and reject in the new film, exploring his personal despair while ultimately erring on the side of impossible hopefulness that the world-renowned documentary (and now its follow-up) are simply steps along an obstructed road he and others have been walking for nearly half a century.

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The movie opens with a drip of melting ice which expands as a glacier disappears, turning first into a rushing river, and then into a vast, glassy ocean. Metaphors don’t get blunter than that, but the real bludgeon of the film is a series of real-world climate catastrophes that displaced or killed thousands of people. It’s an appropriate tonal shift considering that Gore’s version of “We need to act today” was presented in glossy PowerPoint 2,915 days ago. If An Inconvenient Truth prodded people with facts, its sequel grabs them by the ears until they know something.

To that end, An Inconvenient Sequel is an illustration of the calamitous results that inaction has conjured over the last decade. Record-beating heat year after year, super storms, rain bombs, and along with them, cities reduced to splinters, displaced people, and mass graves. What Gore dubs a “nature hike through the Book of Revelation” in a rare moment of gallows humor.

Yet the movie only allows itself one small moment of told-you-so recognition wherein Gore recounts that the biggest criticism of An Inconvenient Truth was the “hyperbole” of the prediction that the Ground Zero Memorial in New York was at risk of flooding, followed by, you guessed it, footage of the Ground Zero Memorial flooding during Hurricane Sandy. Because of Gore’s natural Mr. Rogers quality, there isn’t an atom of smugness to be found in the pronouncement. After all, there’s no glory in being right when the next slide in your presentation involves a body count.

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Plus, directors Bonni Cohen and Jon Shenk split time evenly between Gore as folksy teacher and the larger world shifting on its axis. We go to Greenland to see how much ice has melted, and we go to Miami Beach to see where all that melted ice has gone. We go to Gore’s farm in Carthage, Tennessee, to watch him conduct a training session for climate activists, and we go to the Philippines where an activist trainee named John fights back tears as he remembers the August flood that affected over 80,000 of his neighbors. Most important of all, we go to Paris to witness the 21st international climate conference take place just two weeks after the horrific November 2015 terrorist attacks on the city left 130 dead.

Gore was hosting a 24-hour livestream about climate change near the Eiffel Tower at the time of the attack. He stopped it out of reverence, but the timing also presents a reflection of our politics. Moonshot ideas like saving the planet from the Industrial Revolution get put on pause by the immediacy and fear and cosmic evil of mass killings. The juxtaposition of the two events (in time and in the edit) only serves to highlight how difficult it is to get lizard-brained about the changing weather. It’s no accident that footage of hostages running from the Bataclan is shown virtually alongside footage of a woman being pulled out of a car being sucked down by flood waters.

The through line of the film and of Gore’s new talk is that catastrophic world events are all tied together. Yes, Syria is undergoing a brutal civil war that’s caused one of history’s largest refugee crisis, but also know that Syria recently suffered one of its history’s worst droughts — destroying 60% of its farms and 80% of its livestock. Is one caused by the other? The film dips its toe in the water of attempting to prove it (unsuccessfully), but it also displays with crystal clarity that ever-increasing environmental uncertainty exacerbates everything else in our lives.

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There’s a miniature drama involving the Paris conference in the form of India making the excellent point that the developing world shouldn’t be penalized for world powers using fossil fuels for a century, especially when poorer countries are experiencing incipient growth because of expanded energy. It’s encouraging to see that the documentary, as an extension of Gore himself, doesn’t steamroll this argument in a fit of jingoistic progressive purity, but the stagey tension of Gore making midnight calls (and the triumphant tone of ultra-rare worldwide agreement) cannot help but be undercut by what happens next: the man who took office today.

The optimism of An Inconvenient Sequel feels false. Maybe it has no choice. Maybe the only other option is debilitating despair. Gore’s challenge to the audience is to keep a hopeful eye on the horizon even as he makes us watch him stroll into the golden tower of a President who thinks climate change is a Chinese hoax. After swimming in footage of large-scale human tragedy, and seeing a glimmer of sunshine only to watch storm clouds roll back in, Gore’s Trump-laced, melancholy message seems to be, “If you only have one tool at your disposal, that’s the tool you have to use.”

An Inconvenient Sequel is a movie that shouldn’t exist, yet has to.

4 out of 5 non-hyperbolic burrito

4-burritos

Images: Participant Media

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