Wherever you stand on environmental matters, An Inconvenient Truth will inspire and entertain you because of the charismatic and attractive personality of former US Vice President Al Gore.
If you have any fears that this is just a showcase for a has-been politician to get back into the limelight, rest assured that’s not the case.
Davis Guggenheim’s documentary, which was a huge hit in the United States, succeeds in dealing with a serious subject in a constantly entertaining way. The film follows Gore on one of his roadshow tours where, through a multimedia presentation, he lays out the critical dangers we are in as a planet.
Ultimately, though, this is an uplifting and inspiring experience because, as well as cataloguing the potential catastrophes we all face, Gore persuasively gets the message across that we can all make a positive difference.
Gore may be best remembered for losing the 2000 US election by a cat’s whisker. His response to that personal catastrophe was to go on the road and take his message about global warming to audiences all over the world. This film begs the question of how different the world might have been had the election gone the other way.
The roadshow is intercut with footage of him musing about himself, his family and background. We build up a picture of a man who yearns to use his influence not to enrich or aggrandise himself but to help bring about change for the benefit of all. As in When We Were Kings, the documentary of a decade ago about Muhammad Ali’s rumble in the jungle, the nobility of the man shines through.
With a flare for theatricality and a good deal of humour, Gore spells out what we are facing as a civilisation – the danger of rising sea waters, widespread drought and a possible ice age. He eloquently illustrates the startling reality of how thin and vulnerable the earth’s atmosphere is. He uses graphics, a hydraulic lift, an analogy about a boiling frog with an unexpected twist and even a Simpsonesque cartoon to make often complex scientific information perfectly understandable.
Like a good politician, he comes out with some memorable and pithy phrases (“political will is a renewable resource”), but these are more than just sound bites. He insists that this is an ethical and not a political issue. As he points out, there is no real scientific debate about the effects of global warming, just fear from those who see change as a threat. To his credit, Gore takes very few potshots at his political opponents although this might have been a great platform for him to do just that.
The inevitable question with a documentary of this nature is whether all it will do is preach to the converted. That in itself is not a bad thing (even the most committed environmentalist needs a burst of inspiration from time to time) but of course where it would really succeed is in reaching a much wider audience. There seems to be a tradition of entertaining documentaries doing well at the box office in recent years, so the potential is certainly there.
Gore says early in the film that he has wanted to tell this story for a long time but felt that he had failed to get the message across. He now has the opportunity to succeed in communicating with a much larger number of people than those he has reached in his 1000 stage performances and influencing them to make a difference.
Unless you are a confirmed neo-con with your head in the sand, you will find An Inconvenient Truth essential viewing. You’ll leave the cinema feeling empowered and vowing to do your bit. You may even see politicians in a new light.