A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that although this environmental documentary is very talky, tweens and teens may be interested thanks to producer/star Leonardo DiCaprio. The film addresses some complicated issues in language that may go over younger kids' heads. It also includes repeated, potentially upsetting images of environmental disasters and their aftermath, including floods (Katrina, Europe), wildfires, earthquakes, melting ice caps, endangered furry animals, and impoverished human populations.
What's the story?
THE 11TH HOUR opens with news footage of wildfires, floods, earthquakes, and hurricanes intercut with clips of insects scuttling, activists protesting, and hazmat officials swarming. Amid the commotion, journalist Kenny Ausubel considers the complex relationship between "human society and nature." It's no longer a question that we must save the environment, he says. Otherwise, "We're the ones who may not survive." Organized into sections introduced by Leonardo DiCaprio (who is also the film's producer), interviewees describe "what makes us human" -- that is, what makes us both like and unlike the other beings with whom we share the planet. They raise not only questions of responsibility but also historical situation. As psychologist James Hillman asserts, the notion that we are "separate from nature is in itself a thinking disorder." The film traces how the planet ended up in its current state and proposes some possible responses. Among them: buildings might be ecologically designed, fossil fuel companies might get on board and still turn a profit with new technologies, and individuals might use ecologically sound light bulbs. Making the crisis less abstract and gargantuan, proposals like these ask consumers to understand themselves in relation to the environment.
Is it any good?
It's an important documentary in various senses -- not the least of which is its comprehension and exploitation of celebrity politics. The sheer number of talking heads is daunting (directors Leila Conners Petersen and Nadia Conners interviewed some 70 people over 150 hours), and their arrangement into a series of connected storylines is persuasive. Eschewing the personal plot that Gore offered in An Inconvenient Truth, The 11th Hour instead makes a case for the interconnectedness of human interests with nature, over time and across continents.
Arriving in theaters just after Newsweek's cover story "The Truth about Denial" (as well as a response from its critics), the film doesn't so much argue against naysayers as presume the green truth, at once heartfelt and rational, polished and urgent. Still, opponents contend that celebrity involvement can undermine the environmentalists' causes. For example, even as the Live Earth concerts on July 7, 2007, drew attention to global warming, it also jumpstarted reunion tours by the Police and Smashing Pumpkins. This doubled effect isn't hypocritical, per se, but it is inescapable. Debates over policy, resources, and money are and will be shaped by campaigns, images, and celebrities -- whether elected, appointed, or signed to huge contracts. The 11th Hour understands that and makes its case accordingly.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the debate over global warming, and whether it results from human excesses or inevitable natural changes. Is the debate purely environmental, or are there political and social aspects, too? Does DiCaprio's involvement in the film make you more or less inclined to believe what it says? Why? What do you think of the film's proposal that we can all contribute to fighting global warming? What sorts of things can individuals do? Where could you go for more information on the topics the film brings up?
- In theaters: August 16, 2007
- On DVD or streaming: April 7, 2008
- Cast: Kenny Ausubel, Leonardo DiCaprio, Thom Hartmann
- Director: Leila Connors Petersen
- Studio: Warner Independent
- Genre: Documentary
- Topics: Science and nature
- Run time: 90 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG
- MPAA explanation: some mild disturbing images and thematic elements.
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