The Age Of Stupid (12A)
Written and directed by Franny Armstrong
Screening at from 29th August 2008
The Age Of Stupid is extremely depressing, and this is not a good thing
for a film that's supposed to make people want to save the planet. It’s
not the sheer enormity of the unfolding environmental crisis it presents
that’s so disheartening; it’s the lack of a perspective for
rescuing our species and millions of others.
Acclaimed veteran actor Pete Postlethwaite, who plays The Archivist,
holds a mix of documentary footage and animations together. In the year
2055, this lone survivor is putting together a package to blast off into
space, a warning to take care of your ecosystem, because the one on Earth
has been almost entirely wiped out by catastrophic runaway climate change.
“We could have saved ourselves, but we didn't”, he dejectedly
gasps. “What state of mind were we in, to face extinction and simply
shrug it off?”
The bulk of the documentary footage flits between a few of the globe’s
residents. Jeh Wahdia is a young Indian businessman, who has the curious
idea that starting an Indian easyJet and shouting at his employees will
end the poverty he occasionally glimpses from various speeding vehicles.
Layefa Malemi tries to escape disease and destitution by becoming a doctor
in a Nigerian village devastated by Shell Oil. Alvin DuVernay is a Shell
employee who heroically rescued trapped Hurricane Katrina victims. Piers
Guy is an English wind farm developer, who is constantly frustrated by
So if we 'could' save ourselves, how exactly?
George Monbiot and Mark Lynas pop up and urge viewers to lobby governments
for reductions in carbon emissions (whilst not mentioning they both favour
nuclear power). However, the film’s political message is that millions
of people are buying bottled water, taking those cheap flights, and generally
making lifestyle choices that will condemn us all to rack and ruin. Time
and time again, with his trademark hangdog expression, Postlethwaite disbelievingly
asks why people 'were' so stupid as to commit mass suicide in this way.
But he has no answer, so neither does Franny Armstrong, presumably.
When Armstrong studied zoology at University College, London, the title
of her thesis was 'Is the human species suicidal?' Since then she has
made four films, including the McDonald's-bashing McLibel. The first three
all addressed the chaos that corporations unleash in their hunger for
profit. But it seems that’s as deep as her analysis goes. For her,
humanity can only be understood as atomised individuals who together form
a self-destructive species. The implicit message is that people should
somehow rein-in their own aspirations. She seems to condemn people flying
from their poverty on easyJet just as much as she condemns George Bush
for starting an oil war, because these are both ‘selfish’
acts. This is simplistic.
Yes, people – like all living organisms – will try to act
out of self-interest, and under the present economic system, this will
have negative environmental effects. For example, the campaigners against
wind farms are concerned about their property prices, and they would be
crazy not to be. For them, the tiny-in-the-scheme-of-things impact a single
wind farm would have is outweighed by their dreams of a financially secure
retirement. It is all perfectly understandable.
Circumstances are posing the big question of the twenty-first century
more urgently with each passing second. That question is not ‘should
I really be eating those special offer Chilean grapes?’ It is ‘should
the system of production and distribution be organised to benefit a tiny
elite, or all humanity?’
The planet-wide social crisis is providing conditions where billions
of people’s short- and long-term interests are aligning.