Halla becomes a determined environmental activist, but this threatens a long-held hope of hers.Halla becomes a determined environmental activist, but this threatens a long-held hope of hers.Halla becomes a determined environmental activist, but this threatens a long-held hope of hers.
In reality, the treeless environments of the North, in places like Iceland and Scotland, were once covered with trees. Climate change might be prevented (a little) by replanting those ancient forests. But that might hurt the traditional shepherd culture in rural Iceland, so it isn't done. The film portrays these traditional shepherds as environmental heroes, while the aluminum plant is the villain.
In reality, the aluminum industry has always been desperate for cheap electricity, because it uses a lot of it. So if you're really trying to combat climate change, then where better to site such a plant than Iceland, where all the electrical power is generated without burning any fossil fuels at all? I'm not implying that the big aluminum plant is some kind of environmental hero, but at a literal level, the film's hero has got her environmentalism exactly backward, going after exactly the wrong target.
I'm not naïve about the fact that corporations in general are usually the worst villains in today's world. We liberals in the west might like to imagine that the democratic socialists in Scandinavian countries live in some kind of anti-corporate utopian paradise, but the film reminds us that our utopianism is naive. In reality, Iceland's leaders have recently been shown to be as corrupt as any Brazilian leaders, not just once but twice. First, during the recent bailout of the big banks, Iceland's leaders were implicated as having ruined Iceland's economy by investing in exactly the wrong American derivatives. Second, the more recent Panama Papers scandal showed us that Iceland's rulers are still up to their corrupt tricks. The film's got it exactly right when it characterizes the entire culture of Iceland's leaders (and probably the leaders of almost all countries) as "psychopathic." Today's American corporate culture can best be described as psychopathic, too, especially now that it seems bent on turning the entire planet into Hell on Earth.
I think the film's director is probably on the side of the most naïve, hippie-trippy, clueless environmentalists. One big clue is the film's reverence toward the New Age religion which characterizes that whole hippie-trippy culture. Anything big and corporate is by definition bad, and anything small and local (e.g., the shepherds) is by definition good. No more thinking is required.
Well, as the Swede Greta Thunberg points out, we need to fix global warming now, or we won't have a future to look forward to. If we need to fix all political and social problems (read: corporate capitalism) first, then it'll be too late and we're all doomed. Instead, we've got to force the system we've got now (corporate capitalism) into an environmentalist direction. And if we actually take the trouble to think, then it's pretty easy to see what we need to do as soon as possible. We've got to generate cheap, abundant electricity just like they do in Iceland, without using any fossil fuels. Then by switching our transportation and industry from fossil fuels to electricity, we might just have a green future to look forward to, even if our corporations remain as happy, profitable, and psychopathic as they are now. We've got to force our corporations to move in this direction. Psychopaths can't even be trusted to follow our direction, so they certainly can't be trusted to lead us into the promised land. Our leaders will kill us if we keep letting them lead.
Even if the politics of this film are squarely within the hippie-trippy environmentalist camp which seems incapable of rational thought, it'll certainly get you to think seriously about the issues which matter most today. Any film which leads to thoughtful discussion afterwards is a great film -- whether you agree with the film's politics or not. Another mark of a great film is whether a film is worth seeing twice. This one definitely is. I only hope that the Hollywood remake of this film is at least half as good as the Icelandic original. If it is, then maybe it will help create young American versions of Greta Thunberg. If enough Gretas take to the streets to lead our leaders, then maybe, just maybe, we can save the world.
- Apr 27, 2019