Sunday, July 08, 2007

An Inconvenient Truth

The accusation against An Inconvenient Truth, which stars the former US vice-president and almost-President Al Gore, is simple. It's hard to ignore it while watching the movie. As fact after numbing fact about the real danger of global warming hits you, at the back of the mind there's denial. That Gore is playing politics and using the issue of global warming to gain political mileage. Also at the heart of the issue is the burning question: Is global warming for real?
Gore effectively counters the controversy surrounding the issue. Quoting from peer-reviewed articles and mass media, he points out the difference. That none of the 925 articles carried in journals in which scientists contributed during the period the study was done disputed global warming. But many articles appearing in the media dispute global warming and seek to portray it as a controversy. A Sinclair Lewis quote comes in handy: It's difficult to get a man to understand an issue when his salary depends upon him not understand it.
Here is some political background. India is not a major contributor to global warming despite its huge population. It has also ratified the Kyoto Protocol, though both India and China have been exempted from reducing emission limits. The US, which is the undisputed leader in emitting greenhouse gases, has not ratified Kyoto. The reason why US won't ratify Kyoto is because the political climate in the country does not allow it.
Against this background Gore's film assumes significance. The difference between our country and the US may be huge today, but as our economy grows, ironically, the ways we harm the planet also grows. There is need that each of see the movie because this is a rare movie after which you can actually do something to help society. Even changing a simple thing as a bulb would help.
Gore would also have you believe that the movie will drive political change in the country. That to my mind is doubtful. If Democrats led by Hillary return to power, they still may not be able sign Kyoto simply because it's too demanding and emission level remain atrociously high.
The film strives to prove two points: one is that global warming does takes place, and its effects are multifold and disastrous. This is, indeed, one way to destroy the planet. The other point that the movie proves is that within the US government, particularly the Bush administration, very little was done or is being done to contain warming.
The bulk of the film is shot as Gore gives his slideshow on global warming, and this is no ordinary class. This took six years to develop. The very fact that Gore makes the issue interesting and comprehensible is a testimonial to his in-depth knowledge of the subject and his commitment to the cause.
I am came away feeling that Gore may be a woody politician, but he wasn't the usual power hungry dummy.
The film departs from the two parallel hard-hitting tracks for some soft psychological background of Gore. There are fleeting images of the way he shuffled from a Washington hotel and a Tennessee farm where his father was a breeder and of Gore growing up as boy and the medical problems his father and son face. The writing around these parts is fantastic, and even though, Gore never quite comes alive, he does suffuse the documentary with meaning and a personal touch. In fact, he begins the documentary in style, naming two professors: one who dismisses that the continent of South America and Africa were ever together (a well-known, proven fact now) and the other who was first in the world to say that carbon dioxide emissions by countries should be measured. It was these measurements that finally conclusively proved that global warming was reaching disastrous proportions.
Gore's collection of slides is also exceptional, even for a man who was almost President once. The photographs of Earth from the Sun, the dramatic shots showing how fast ice melts at the poles and the CGI sequence with a polar bear are all technically perfect. That makes the movie mainstream. This is not the work of a left wing intellectual setting out to make an art house product. This documentary-as-lecture movie also proves another point: That Gore is a pretty good teacher.
Gore has a deeply resonant voice. But however articulate Gore might be, he is never once able to make a single expression that draws your attention. That he is fat, and growing fatter with every single day, doesn't make him cute. Comparisons to Michael Moore, who is much more gimmicky and effective, are inevitable. Gore falls short. He can never get to you the way Moore can.