Living in the Future's Past

What's past is present

Documentary, not rated, Violet Crown, 3.5 chiles

Sometimes we ask nothing more of a movie than that it gives us something to think about. And heck — here you get that right in the title.

Director Susan Kucera revisits territory she has trod before in environmental documentaries like Breath of Life (2014) and Trading on Thin Air (2010), exploring who we are as a species and why we keep doing terrible things to our planet. Here she’s joined by the film’s co-producer and host-narrator Jeff Bridges, a man who knows a thing or two about the consequences of climate change, having been rescued by helicopter this past January from the roof of his home during a Montecito mudslide.

Bridges provides a laconic screen presence, and star power, as he stares soulfully out over a pristine landscape and makes observations like, “This Earth was here before us and will be here long after we are gone …” (But the Dude abides.)

Kucera strews the film with talking heads drawn from the worlds of science, philosophy, academia, and politics, along with some good common sense. The commentary is interlaced with stunning and poignant visuals of nature, history, and the occasional odd interjection of imagery that seems a little out of context, like a model in a windblown dress standing on a rock overlooking the sea.

One of the main themes is our unsustainable devouring of energy. We are, as one commentator observes, “eating our seed corn,” consuming the resources that we will require to generate future energy. Kucera draws our attention to the science of consumer marketing that has us scrambling to acquire things we really don’t need, and shows how the roots of such behavior lie in the origins of our species.

Climate change is an important focus of the film. And one of the more interesting spokesmen for awareness of that danger is a man you would not have found a dozen years ago supporting the case Al Gore made in An Inconvenient Truth. Bob Inglis, a former Republican congressman from one of the country’s staunchest conservative strongholds in South Carolina, was a denier until his son took him aside and said, “Dad, I’ll vote for you, but you’re going to have to clean up your act.” Inglis admits that while he was in office, it wasn’t politically expedient to look at the facts. “I didn’t really know anything about it except that Al Gore was for it,” he says. “That was really the end of the inquiry.”

There’s much more. The film makes a compelling and complex case for a fragile and complex world, a place where all of us and all of nature make up a “super-organism,” with each part dependent on the others.

The prospect is not without hope. Solutions must and can be found. “Ingenuity is in our DNA,” Bridges assures us, and he throws out a challenge. “Ask yourself, what kind of future would I like to see? And what am I willing to contribute that comes naturally to me?” 

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