Guardians of Life is a three-minute film from the director and environmental activist Shaun Monson, produced in collaboration with Extinction Rebellion and Amazon Watch and starring the man of the moment: Joaquin Phoenix.
It delivers a tiny metaphorical microdrama to raise consciousness about the climate emergency. The message is: don’t give up, it’s not too late, the cause could not be better. In fact, you could argue that any film or media event that is not about the climate emergency is a waste of valuable time. And yet, bafflingly, the metaphor at the heart of this film is hackneyed and nonsensical. On its own figurative and dramatic terms, it doesn’t work. Those squeamish about spoilers had better look away now.
We are in the operating theatre of a hospital A&E department. A crowd of doctors in masks and green scrubs – with Phoenix at the centre – are bringing in a patient on a gurney, firing off technical-medic dialogue at each other. The patient has become seriously injured after “wildfires”. There is “systemic damage”. The heart is no longer pumping. Frantically, the doctors work to bring the patient back to consciousness. They fetch the shock paddles to kickstart a pulse. No good. The nerve-jangling beeping from the machine to which the patient is connected slows down and stops. There’s a flatline. In the traditional, sombre manner the senior physician (played by Matthew Modine) “calls it” and having gloomily recorded the time of death – midnight – everyone begins to troop out. But wait. One valiant medic, played by Peruvian-American actor and campaigner Q’orianka Kilcher, refuses to admit defeat. She climbs on top of the patient, carries on pumping and the beeping triumphantly recommences.
Now the camera moves in for the big reveal. Surely, we’re not just going to see a bloodstained planet lying on the gurney? A symbolic beachball-sized Mother Earth – like the smiley-face globe that bursts into flames in the episode of 30 Rock featuring Al Gore?
At first, it doesn’t seem like it. The closeup reveals what looks like a big lump of coal, glowing red. It’s as if the doctor has caused some dying embers to catch light once again. Has the flame of life burst forth once more? That’s the happy ending? But then we pan back to see that this is the continent of South America, on fire, and the globe spins around a bit to show Australia, hideously aflame.
But our planet bursting into flames is what we don’t want to happen. A successful operation, in these metaphorical terms, would surely show the continents cooling – which is difficult to convey within Motson’s flatline-versus-beeping scenario. It is a disconcertingly muddled and ineffective image, when this important campaign needed something clear and compelling.
Phoenix is not the star. That is Kilcher, and she is a dramatic presence. But for this film to burden itself with such a messy and ineffective conceit in such a short film was a misstep.
• Guardians of Nature has been made by Extinction Rebellion and Amazon Watch. See www.mobilize.earth for more details.
Source: The Guardian