07 January 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

There is a shot in An Inconvenient Truth, about an hour in, in which Al Gore is shown receiving a rousing ovation outside the theater in which he just delivered his customary lecture on global warming. The small sequence feels superfluous – what does Mr. Gore’s reception in China have to do with the perils of impending climate change? An Inconvenient Truth is, of course, the new documentary about Al Gore starring global warming, and it is uncomfortably self-possessed. Gore is just as much using his own celebrity to draw attention to the pressing environmental crisis as he is using the issue to draw attention to himself.

Primarily, the film is a taped version of a PowerPoint presentation Mr. Gore gives about the reality – causes and effects – of global warming. While it may sound more like a
Saturday Night Live sketch, Gore’s performance is witty, passionate, and engaging, although a brief animated segment from Matt Groening really steals the show. Gore has obviously taken to heart the criticisms leveled at him in 2000 as being wooden and boring, though he at times lays the homespun, countrybred hokeyness (as well as the Apple Computers product placements) on a bit thick.

He makes a sound argument as to why global warming is a terribly serious issue that needs to be addressed forthwith, and skeptics (i.e. idiots) and indifferents should see the film to have that point driven home. (It is a sad testament to our culture that a movie like this even needs to be made to emphasize the veracious impendence of global warming.) After all, lately the planet does seem, as Mr. Gore says, like it’s taking a “nature hike through the Book of Revelations” and Gore is able to convincingly lay the blame for the SARS outbreak and the crisis in Darfur, at least in part, on global warming. Like politicians in general, however, the film is a distasteful combination of self-obsession and an obsession over “the public good” (however one defines “public” or “good” is another matter.) I’m not insinuating that Mr. Gore’s passion is insincere, but he does come off as a salesman working on commission, the commission being political power as well as global security. The film's subtext seems to be a lecture on how different the world would be if Al Gore had been elected president in 2000.

In segments between the PowerPoint, Gore tells a bit of his life story and the adversities he’s overcome: almost losing his son in a car accident, losing his sister to lung cancer, and having the presidency stolen from him. It subtly suggests that the way Mr. Gore has pulled himself back together to become a rock star of the lecture circuit could be the same way our planet pulls itself back together. After all, it’s not too late to start rolling back our carbon emissions and avoid the most direly predicted outcomes (like Lower Manhattan, including the World Trade Center Memorial, being underwater within seventy-five years.)

But Mr. Gore, now informed, what can I do? Besides buying more energy efficient appliances and automobiles, he doesn’t offer much more except…vote Democratic. Oh, please.

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