In “The Age of Stupid,” a frightening jeremiad about the effects of climate change, the craggy-faced British actor Pete Postlethwaite plays the Archivist, a finger-pointing, futuristic voice of doom in 2055. Peering into a retrospective crystal ball that shows scenes from the early 21st century, he scolds the human race for having committed suicide.
The curator of the Global Archive, a storage site of human knowledge in what is now a melted Arctic, the Archivist presses a rewind button on a touch screen to show documentary scenes related to climate change that were shot when there was still time for humanity to save itself. At the end of “The Age of Stupid,” which uses crude animation that depicts London underwater, Sydney burning and Las Vegas buried in sand, the Archive is sent into space.
A much sterner and more alarming polemic than “An Inconvenient Truth,” “The Age of Stupid,” directed by Franny Armstrong, will be taken by some as an emergency wake-up call to do everything possible to avert impending catastrophe. In the film Mark Lynas, the British environmental activist and author of “Six Degrees: Our Future on a Hotter Planet,” warns of a tipping point around 2015 if the world doesn’t immediately act to reduce carbon emissions. Once global temperatures warm more than two degrees, he says, all will be lost.
Others may find the challenges to humanity posed by the documentary so daunting that “The Age of Stupid” (the Archivist’s sarcastic nickname for our time) may convince viewers that, practically speaking, it is already too late to act. Cynics may assume that the ethic of consumerism is too deeply instilled in us to be changed, as is the faith in capitalism, which depends on continuous growth. If so, we might as well put the coming horrors out of our minds and live for the moment, while hoping for a miracle.
The personal stories among which the film hopscotches examine specific situations. Two involve big oil. We meet a retired paleontologist, who worked for Shell Oil, discovering new resources off the coast of New Orleans, but who also helped rescue more than 100 people after Hurricane Katrina. This was a disaster that the Archivist, looking back, says was only the first of many similar meteorological catastrophes related to climate change.Continue reading the main story
"The Age of Stupid," a 2009 docudrama set in 2055, asks why didn't we save Earth when we had the chance.
"Stupid" was first conceived by Director Franny Armstrong as a documentary integrating themes of excessive consumption, war and climate change. Armstrong began developing the idea in 2002 and began shooting in 2004. Armstrong and Producer Lizzie Gillett sought out the main characters from seven countries: India airline founder Jeh Wadia; French mountain guide Fernand Pareau; New Orleans Shell Oil Company paleontologist Alvin Duvernay; English wind farm developer Piers Guy, Nigerian Layefa Malemi who wants to be a famous doctor; and Iraqi refugee children Jamila and Adnan Bayyoud who repair American's discarded shoes to sell on the streets of Jordan.
Music by Chris Brierley, "McLibel" and "Drowned Out," enhances without intruding with a full orchestral score and songs by Radiohead, Depeche Mode and Clapton.
Animation weaves scenes and stories together and portrays those who would never agree to an interview that asks what is your responsibility to the indigenous people of this region? In 2008, a showing of the thought-to-be-finished movie to friends, family and investors made it clear that despite compelling stories the film desperately needed a twist. The perfect answer arose by adding the archivist, set in the year 2055, as the last man on earth, "to amplify and explain the significance of our six human stories set in the present day," Armstrong explains.
Oscar-nominated Pete Postlethwaite was Armstrong's only choice for the heir to a devastated world. A self-described convert "from environmental ignoramus to climate change party bore," Postlethwaite says, "No option really. I had to do it." As Earth's last survivor, Postlethwaite taps screens in mid-air to view news footage from 2008. "Why didn’t we stop climate change when we had the chance?" … "What state of mind were we in to face extinction and simply shrug it off?"
The most haunting stars of "Stupid" are the Iraqi children. Unscripted, Jamila and Adnan run through the alleys of Jordan reenacting scenes they witnessed in their home country. Jamila chases her brother wielding a pretend machine gun. Adnan returns fire, but then drops to the ground in defeat. Jamila grabs a throw and covers the fallen soldier's body and face with the reverence of one administering last rites. It is a scene I will never forget. The children were five and six-years-old when their home was destroyed by a missile on the second day of the Iraq war. Their older brother Malik was badly burned as they fled the house. Their father died. "Our dad was the best one in all Iraq," says Adnan. "But the Americans came and killed him. We found him dead in the morning." "I never want to see Americans again. I have fire in my heart because they killed our dad." Since that fateful night, fifteen-year-old Malik has been detained in Baghdad. On his ninth attempt to join his family, he manages to get the medical certificate he needs to cross into Jordan. Jamila and Adnan take a taxi to the border, hoping to reunite with their brother. The trip was expected to take two hours. Six hours later Malik explains that his ride got stuck behind an American tank convoy – if you overtake a tank, they shoot you. "During those extra four hours, when I concluded that someone [could have] died because of my film, I did a lot of reevaluating." Says Armstrong.
Layefa Malemi, from Shell Oil's most profitable region of Nigeria, wades in breast-deep oil-laden water for fish to sell in hopes of earning enough money to attend medical school. Malemi longs for the American fantasies: a comfortable house, flashy cars, good drinking water, plentiful good food. "If you were living that life you wouldn’t even like to die. You’d just want to stay on Earth forever.” “Through being a medical doctor, I really want to be famous. It’s not easy, it’s hard work. But that’s my dream.” Malemi adds.
When did becoming famous become an ambition rather than a side effect? Are we so desperate for appreciation only enthralling crowds will satiate our lust? Piers Guy sees wind turbines as "foot soldiers, the pioneers" of a more intelligent energy system. His intention to erect the modern-day windmills on his Bedford farm met with life-threatening contentiousness from neighbors who say the sleek towers spoil their view and make too much noise. They fail to see wind turbines as devices of progress with purity in sync with the might and beauty of wind. Yet, they do not object to the Bedford auto racetrack in their guarded English countryside haven. The first round in court to block Guy from erecting the turbines went to the neighbors. On the courthouse steps, Victoria Reeves giggled nervously into the camera as she claimed to be in favor of environmental reform while celebrating the win against windmills. "Of course we’re worried about global warming. That’s got to be something that we’re all concerned about. I mean we’re all doing our bit to conserve and looking at renewable energy, absolutely." Her smirk does not wash from my brain no matter how I try.
Guy returned to Bedford Town Hall in January 2010 with a proposal for three wind turbines. He awaits the council's decision. “Throughout our history, the deal was we left the world in a slightly better place than we found it. That was progress. The wheel, the rule of law, penicillin. It was our covenant with our children and grandchildren,” the archivist laments. "The Age of Stupid" is a painful movie, and we loathe to suffer, but the film holds our attention like witnesses to a murder – the demise of our planet, our universe and all its inhabitants. The human stories connect us to our global impact and accountability.
There are tidbits of sardonic humor, beauty and hope, but we are fed no sugar-coated fantasies. "Stupid" is slick, fast-paced, violent and pervasively traumatic. Just what Hollywood insists upon. Trouble is, except for the future context this is a reality show. Armstrong refuses to revisit the argument of whether we are responsible for global warming; the debate no longer holds merit. The filmmakers presume we are adult enough to take the truth and conscientious enough to take immediate measures, determined and unyielding actions, to reverse the physical harm to our universe and societal devaluation of the truly sacred – each other, for instance. Can we win against ignorance, naïveté, and egotism in time? I wonder.
The European, British, Australian, Dutch and Scottish Parliaments requested screenings of the movie before the official release. "Stupid" later launches with the greenest and biggest film event the UK has ever seen. Viewers come by foot, bicycle, rickshaw and electric, chip-fat and vegetable-oil-run cars. The projector run on batteries powered by solar panels. As a result of the movie, with a nudge from Postlethwaite, the UK Government reverses its policy on dirty coal power. In addition, on September 1, 2009, the UK launches "10:10" – a movement to cut carbon emissions by 10% in 2010. Over 50,000 people, businesses, schools and organizations pledge to make a change.
"Stupid" opened in Manhattan in a solar-powered tent September 21, 2009. The event coincided with the UN's Climate Week in New York. Celebrities walked a green carpet made from recycled bottles. The premiere was beamed out to 440 US cinemas and 63 countries. Ageofstupid.net holds volumes of information about all aspects of the making of the movie, from idea conception to editing, crowd-finance and DVD delivery.
Comments by principle characters and journal posts continue to quench our need to know what happens next. Director, Franny Armstrong, "McLibel," "Drowned Out"; Producer Lizzie Gillett; Executive Producer John Basstek, Passion Films; music, Chris Brierley; 2009, movie, DVD, download "The Age of Stupid" will air on television in the United States in early spring 2010.