Blurring the boundary between sci-fi and documentary, Franny Armstrong’s The Age of Stupid peers back in time from a climate crisis-wracked 2055 to lament our current inaction on the mother of all conflicts: The war on terra. The film premieres globally on Monday.
“We’re not at war at the moment,” explains Piers Guy, a British wind-farm developer who serves as one of The Age of Stupid‘s compelling subjects. “But if people actually recognized the full implications of what’s happening to us, they would be treating it like a war.”
Armstrong’s docu-film isn’t shy about examining those implications. Beginning with the Big Bang, The Age of Stupid‘s evocative CGI hurls toward 2055 at light-speed, only to find Earth’s once-mighty metropoles annihilated. From a drowned London to a buried Las Vegas and a burning Sydney, its dystopian imagery conjures up disturbing visions of humanity and hyperconsumption gone seriously awry.
That self-negating process is analyzed by The Archivist (Pete Postlethwaite), who has assembled a global digital archive in a forbidding tower in the melted Arctic. A brilliant actor, Postlethwaite brings restraint and sadness to his part, which is the only fictional role in the documentary experiment. The rest of the film is told by The Archivist’s digital materials, consisting of real footage and media feeds, as well as interviews with global-warming experts.
That includes Piers and his wife Lisa, who begin The Archivist’s flashback with a visit to French mountain guide Fernand Pareau. The wizened Pareau has witnessed the startling decline of Mont Blanc’s snowpack firsthand, and provides the film with its most poignant statement: “I think everyone in the future will probably blame us. We knew how to profit but not protect.”
Pareau, Piers and Lisa are joined by the film’s other subjects: Young Iraqi refugees Jamila and Adnan Bayyoud, Nigerian medical student Layefa Malemi, Indian airline entrepneur Jeh Wadia and Shell Oil paleontologist Alvin DuVernay, whose criticism of excessive consumption provided The Age of Stupid with its title.
These real-life players are quite moving. Jamila and Adnan Bayyoud witnessed their father’s murder during the U.S. invasion of Iraq and their resentment is lethal, as they sell used shoes on the streets of Jordan. Layefa Malemi struggles to survive in an ironically depressed Nigeria, the most oil-rich nation in Africa, while selling diesel on the black market and aiding villagers whose air and water have been irrevocably poisoned by Shell Oil’s gas flares and dumping. Shell’s DuVernay, who rescued more than 100 people in his native New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, laments the ignorant waste of cheap oil while digging for more.
That waste is brought home by arresting animations on resource wars, global emissions and more, as well as decontextualized music like Depeche Mode electro-pop hit “Just Can’t Get Enough,” Dragnerve’s speed-metal anthem “A Life in Ashes” and Radiohead’s eerie “Reckoning.” By the time The Age of Stupid‘s flashbacks are over and the viewer is stuck in a ravaged 2055, the urge to do something immediate is palpable and powerful.
Crowd-funded by a profit-sharing partnership comprising a mere 228 people and groups, including a hockey team and a women’s health center, who each invested portions of its £450,000 budget, The Age of Stupid is a destabilizing experience. Its Monday global opening is concurrent with United Nations Climate Week, although the film has already been screened by the Scottish, Welsh, Swedish, Dutch and U.K. parliaments, as well as the European Union and Obama’s think tank, the Center for American Progress. The result is a full-court press aimed at influencing nations to come to the U.N.’s 2009 climate change conference in Copenhagen with their heads and hearts in the right place.
Which is to say, a much better place than Earth, circa 2055.
This early cli-fi exercise originally appeared in Wired.