Film in the Anthropocene

March 20, 2018

Film is of course the art form of Industrial Civilization and its mass culture, whether as a simple historical fact, a manifestation of technical possibility, or in the various ideologies it is adept at expressing.

But it is also the art form of the Anthropocene.  I am overstating the case somewhat, but not entirely, when I note that the prevailing message of film is the power of belief and trust.  This is most visible in the nearly inevitable Hollywood Plot whereby evil, prejudice, self-doubt, or malevolent aliens are overcome, at the plot’s climax, by a leap of belief or trust that transcends the odds.  This is true whether we are talking about Westerns, “Star Wars,” “Rocky,” “Pocahontas,” “Toy Story”—or “A Wrinkle in Time,” which I saw earlier today (don’t ask).  Never mind the odds or probable limits.  Believe.  Trust.  Take my hand.  Look me in the eyes.  Close your eyes.  Jump.  What film doesn’t contain this moment?  The force is always with the film’s hero if only he or she will surrender fussy sensibility and give in to it.

It is easy enough to make a connection between the narrative of belief in yourself against the odds in the context of competitive capitalism, especially as it increasingly becomes a game of roulette in the financialized casino capitalism of today.  But the story of self-overcoming through belief in oneself is more broadly suited to the Liberal life-plan of self-creation.  You can be whoever you want—as long as you dream big: that’s the narrative line of almost every “age appropriate” (a phrase I use in both of its senses) movie or TV show produced for my children.  The meta-myth of Liberalism is that there are no limits, that ideas and ideals can create reality, that any obstacle can be overcome by human ingeniousness–if, that is, we don’t lose faith and fall victim to the sensible or moderate law of averages that are so often represented by the foil if not the antagonist.

Needless to say, we live in an age in which we must learn to respect limits, give prudence its due and pay attention to dull facts and to a science that is decreasingly the source of wonders and increasingly the font of warnings.  What art form might guide us here I don’t know.  But I don’t think it will be film.  Film is not merely the messenger of Liberalism and its myths, it is tailor made for the epic suspension of disbelief.  Especially in the age of special-effects, but only in an exaggerated fashion of its main trends, the moving image, the sweeping music, the nearly limitless ability to dazzle puts up on the screen the message I’ve been discussing: that anything is possible—because in film it is.  Given the elaborate technology of these images, it makes its case with ease.  Anything is possible.  There are no limits.  And so we walk blinkingly into the light of the afternoon.

Erik Lindberg

Erik Lindberg received his Ph.D. in English and Comparative Literature in 1998, with a focus on cultural theory. After completing his degree, Lindberg began his career as a carpenter, and now owns a small, award-winning company that specializes in historical restoration. In 2008 he started Milwaukee’s first rooftop farm, and was a co-founder of the Victory Garden Initiative, as well as a member of Transition Milwaukee’s inaugural steering committee. He lives in Milwaukee with his wife and young twin boys.

Tags: films, the Anthropocene