The environment?  Are people still worrying about that thing?  Sad

by Thom Yee


Metamorphosis images courtesy of the National Film Board of Canada

I’m never going to have children.  Now you don’t know me and I don’t know you (probably), there are a variety of perfectly natural reasons why any normal person might make a decision like that, and, from the outside, hearing that might even seem like a good thing.  With a near quadrupling of the world’s population in the course of the last 80 years, it might actually be okay if more and more of us choose against having children simply from the perspective of our finite natural resources.  But trust me when I say that my decision against having children doesn’t come from a good or helpful place.  Diseases long thought eradicated are coming back while other, more present-day maladies are surely and steadily becoming untreatable.  Mass shootings, especially at schools, happen at such an alarming rate that they’re no longer raising that many alarms.  One of the biggest nations in the world made the least informed, most deliberately manipulated, and most destructive decisions it possibly could have in selecting its new leader.  Anthony Bourdain is dead.  In the same year that Stephen Hawking died.  Kids are eating Tide PODS®.  It feels like every direction we could turn to, things are getting worse and worse and often almost willfully more stupid.  Just about the last thing I would want to do is leave someone I care about and am responsible for trapped on this doomed, morally bankrupt, gangster-haunted planet.

And is it just me, or is it getting way too warm around here lately?

Climate change is a funny little thing in our shared global culture in that it’s not at all funny or in any way a little thing.  It’s, instead, the end of all life as we know it by way of the destruction of our planet’s atmosphere, and even if we, as a species, ever advance our science enough to find our way off of Mother Earth, wrecking the place we used to live would still probably be one of those things we should feel badly about.  And yet so many of us talk about climate change as if it’s a problem for tomorrow, something that will be dealt with in due time and is, at most, the cause of only minor inconveniences today.  But it’s not hard to find images of lands once fertile now unable to support life today or to see the catastrophic results of weather events that decimate vital parts of our world today.  Stories about strange, heretofore unseen weather patterns that lead to ecological disasters are becoming incredibly common.  Almost as common as it is to find people out of work.  And that’s where the divide between doing what’s right for the environment and what’s right by ourselves usually starts.  After all, losing the ability to support yourself financially is another type of destruction, and if your way of life has been destroyed, it can be hard to find sympathy for the eventual destruction of everybody else’s.

It seems more that attitudes about climate change — affected by our beliefs, works, individual experiences, and the voices we choose to listen to — are what continue to make the topic a contentious issue far more so than the actual science.  As a topic, climate change is something many of you may have first seriously considered after seeing Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, the former American Vice-President’s documentary on climate change released back in 2006.  Though received well at the time, there are those who believe the piece may have ultimately done more to polarize and politicize the topic, and by the time Gore’s follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel:  Truth to Power was released in 2017, it debuted to far less attention (and did far less business) than its predecessor.  To me, the saddest thing about An Inconvenient Sequel was precisely that it was 11 years later and the conversation, in many important ways, seemed to have regressed.  It’s at a point like this that we have to question the role of politics in climate change and how much the situation calls for a different approach.  And that’s where Metamorphosis really finds meaning.

What’s it about?

Our world is in peril!  Gaia, the spirit of the Earth, can no longer stand the terrible destruction plaguing our planet!  She sends five magic rings to—Oh.  Wait.  This isn’t a cartoon.   There is no Captain Planet.  There’s only us.  Metamorphosis looks at our environmental crisis through a cinematic lens, showing its profound effects both on a global scale and how it can change and has changed the ways we live.

Is it any Good?

The creators of Metamorphosis describe their movie as “A poem for the planet,” and there really is no better way to describe it.  It’s visual poetry, incredibly stimulating in its imagery, and the type of thing you could leave on, running on repeat all day simply to create an atmosphere or to stimulate a mood.  Or to tell a story.

It begins with the image of a caterpillar, cocooning, and [spoiler alert?] eventually growing into a butterfly.  The monarch butterfly is used as a thematic motif throughout the film, its annual autumn southward travels and the effect that climate change has on these migrations becoming a focal point for the changes affected on all of us.  It’s this sort of choice on the part of directors Nova Ami and Velcrow Ripper that gives Metamorphosis a sense of something you feel rather than something you’re told about.  Monarchs aren’t typically the sort of thing we give a great deal of thought towards, but their struggles, first in becoming butterflies and then attempting to survive in the face of sometimes unnecessary, put-upon adversities, become a strong representation of our time here on Earth and how fragile, vulnerable, and interconnected the whole thing really is.10_ArtbyJean-PaulBourdier1_California_PhotoVelcrowRipper

As we follow Metamorphosis, we become privy to events, stories, and struggles created by climate change from all across the planet, whether it’s in Vanuatu and seeing the aftereffects of Hurricane Pam or the diminishing natural reefs in the Carribean, or seeing something more hopeful, such as in Milan where the building of greened highrises actually reduces pollution or in Long Beach, California where solar electric systems are installed free of charge to low-income households by non-profit groups hiring women and minorities.  And I use those words, “become privy” very specifically—these are stories told in a gentle, contemplative manner, in a way that you can feel your knowledge expanding through shared experience.  As we meet these people, families, artists, and scientists, there’s never a sense of an agenda, you don’t feel any pointed criticism or an overloading of information.

Among all of these places, the images of Venice, now sunken under knee-high high tides on a regular basis, were particularly striking.  These high-tide events, once occurring only once every five to ten years, have now become perpetually recurring parts of everyday life for those who remain, the population having gone from approximately 120,00 to 55,000 in the last 40 years.  The high tides have made the possibility of living at ground level impossible, and even when these tides subside, extensive cleanups are necessary afterward.  It’s a series of images in Metamorphosis that are hypnotic and almost soothing if not for the nightmarish, Waterworld-esque future they portend.  It’s a really concerning look at what’s happening in Venice, and what may be even more concerning is that not many are even talking about what’s happening in Venice.  It’s just not one of those things we usually consider, something comparatively subtle and much more of a slow burn than what we usually think of when we consider climate change, and it’s that subtle, delicate approach that makes Metamorphosis so affecting.8_BoscoVerticale1_Milan_PhotoVelcrowRipper

So should I see it?

If the topic of climate change is something that concerns you at all, Metamorphosis is something you should make time for.  It’s a thoughtful, meditative take on how our ways of life on this planet are changing that isn’t looking to blame or point fingers but would rather have you take in the experiences brought about by our changing planet, many of them negative but some of them with opportunities to uplift.

If I have a criticism of the film, it’s that it requires a certain level of acceptance.  It’s almost undeniably affecting for its reflections and contemplations, but I don’t know how convincing it is for a less receptive audience.  It’s not the first thing I would bring up to a skeptic.  It lacks that aggression and punch that other, more well-known documentaries trade in.  For the most part, that’s a good thing, but for the hardcore, heels-dug-in, zero-tolerance, my-country-first types?  Metamorphosis might not get the job done.  But, short of the end of all life as we know it by way of the destruction of our planet’s atmosphere, I’m not sure what would.

Metamorphosis will be playing this weekend, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, Junes 22 through 24, at Metro Cinema.

Thom’s Metamorphosis final score


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