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Force of Nature (2010)

by on 2012/09/18

“It kind of feels like a wrap of what I’ve been doing . . . I can just go home and die now.”

* * * * *

The night before his 75th birthday, scientist David Suzuki stands in front of a Vancouver audience and they, in turn, stand in ovation to him. He hasn’t even said a single word yet. You expect he isn’t going to go very hard on them. He’s basically preaching to the choir.

Everybody means well, and they know what he’s likely to say, as readily as he could speak without preparing notes. After all, this piece is the culmination and distillation of decades of similar lectures, a legacy punctuated with personal details.

He tells his life story, from birth to the present, including whatever other matters influenced his evolution: the role of Japanese historical events upon a Canadian ashamed of his heritage, the Cold War’s boost to scientific progress, the American Civil Rights Movement, and aboriginal concerns.

Interspersed throughout his tale are naturalistic parallels: the history of our universe, the Earth, and mankind. Issues are raised — the population explosion, deforestation, pollution, extinction, climate change, and quality of life. He struggles to reconcile two sides of science — its potential for apocalypse or advancement — hoping to sell us on the latter, to pick up his torch and prevail.

Less strident than Al Gore’s Inconvenient Truth, there are few overt threats made. Instead Suzuki discusses challenges, proposing they can be resolved or avoided.

Director Sturla Gunnarsson builds the documentary with a framework of recorded lecture, backed by illustrative slides, cutting away for related travelogue segments. Suzuki revisits locations of importance in his life, and also narrates vintage footage and stills. In some scenes, Bruce Cockburn’s guitar instrumentals underscore the natural vistas.

(In fact, go buy his Speechless album right now. No I’m not kidding. Just do it.)

However, if I might quibble on an aspect of production, I have only one complaint. I grew sick and tired of the constant zooms, like a stuttering drinking game. See a jump inward? Take a shot. Like a cinematography/editing tic, this technique is used to excess. Every time I thought, “Oh, they’re probably bunched up together like the slide whistles in D.O.A.” it would happen again. And again. And again. Hell, you can see it twice in the trailer alone!

That niggle in itself has little effect on my assessment of Suzuki, who comes up with striking insights repeatedly. His comparison of humanity on Earth to bacteria in a jar is remarkable (and a bit terrifying). He warns us our economy is as fictional as the dragons of myth. And his belief that we are part of the environment — as opposed to living within it — had frankly never occurred to me before.

His ultimate approach is not to beat his audience with metaphorical sticks, but to suggest the carrots we pursue may be illusory. While his tactics didn’t shock and awe me, they gave me a lot to consider, all wrapped up in an interesting biography. I learned new things, some practical, and was highly entertained, each reason enough to watch Force of Nature on their own. Taken as a whole, it’s required viewing.

* * * * *

Rated PG

92 minutes

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