by John Kendall Hawkins
"There is but one freedom, to put oneself right with death. After that, everything is possible."
-Albert Camus, Notebooks, 1942-51
For those of us who grew up watching Charlton Heston films, we can recall enactments of heroic courage, both in the early development and later downward decline of human civilization. Heston gave us a magnificent Moses in The Ten Commandments (1956), returning all scraggly from the wilderness, like some people I knew in the Sixties returning from poetry communes, holding up that Decalogue in revolutionary resistance to the gold lust of Baal. He refused to be a slave in Ben Hur (1959). He gave us a Live Free or Die kind of ethos. No debt slavery, no bondage of any kind.
Toward the end of his career, Heston got dyspeptic over gun control and dystopic in his roles, teaming up with Edward G. Robinson (his last film role) in Soylent Green (1973) as Detective Thorn, a contraband-sniffing cop for the State in a world catastrophically fucked up by climate change and overpopulation and resorting to cannibalism (recycled humans, get it?) that he has a late epiphany as he watches his good friend, Sol, old enough to remember beauty, die by euthanasia, fading to a surround-screen explosion of splendor and Beethoven's Pastoral symphony. He's been told stories by Sol, but Thorn has never seen this before and he weeps, as if to say: My god, that's the way it used to be?
But arguably his most important role came a few years earlier in Planet of the Apes, where he plays astronaut George Taylor, who inadvertently time travels, and comes to realize that he's landed on the future Earth controlled by fascist orangutans. Who can forget the final beach scene, Lady Liberty buried in sand, while an epiphanal Taylor exclaims, "Goddamn you all to hell!" When I remember his roles as a revolutionary, and an orbiter, I'm almost willing to cut him some slack for his last role, before dying, as president of the National Rifle Association, where he promised you'd have to pry his gun from his "cold, dead hands". (Damn, the way things are going, we may need those 400 million guns after all.)
Apparently, the Taylor role is the one Michael Moore and Jeff Gibbs chose to remember for Planet of the Humans, a recently released film on the politics of things Green and the looming environmental catastrophe ahead, once we knock back COVID-19 with some more Happy Zoom and recreational-therapy Corona mask decorations. The film is written and directed by Gibbs; Moore was executive producer. The film was released on YouTube, in time for the 50th anniversary of Earth Day (remember Earth?), and was available for viewing for free, until "controversy" over 4 seconds of Fair Use footage caused the film to be pulled by Google. It has since been put up, in its entirety, on Vimeo, without incident thus far.
As we recall, the last time Moore and Heston came head-to-head was in Bowling for Columbine (2002), and things got ugly during the interview, with Moore shooting his mouth off about Heston's gun rhetoric, but not so much guns themselves (Moore is a member of the NRA). The question is: Why did Moore and Gibbs bring back Heston from the dead to 'headline' their environmental film? The answer is simple: Astronaut Taylor realized that They went ahead and did it: They blew up the planet despite years of warnings of impending catastrophe. And Moore and Gibbs are promoting the notion in their new film that we're an environmental flashpoint away from a planet ruled by fascist orangutans. (Trump as omen.)
As you could almost guess from the title, the film wants to show and explain to us what happens when one species -- guess which one -- takes over the planet and shits repeatedly in its own well-feathered bed. Well, it's a Michael Moore film (executive producer), so you can probably see where the film goes, after an opening sequence where passersby are asked the loaded gun of a question: How much longer do you think the human race has? Typically, no one has a clue. Then the soundtrack vibes somber synthetic, Gibbs' voice-over all-disillusioned monotone. Recalls Fahrenheit 9/11. Another bummer rant from Moore ahead.
According to Rolling Stone, "Moore and Gibbs said they decided to release it now, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, in the hopes of getting people to reflect on 'the role humans and their behavior have played in our fragile ecosystem'." This hope seems promising, on the surface, where most of us interface and internet, and so many people have already expressed wonderment at how much the world will have changed while we've been in 'lockdown'. Prisoners opine that way: I wonder how the world will be, without me, in 5 to 10.
But, we have people expressing the sentiment after just two months of half-assed 'self-isolation' (though increased internet activity). The New Yorker has weighed in for the comfy middle class. Psychology Today speaks for the masses. Yesterday, I watched masked baseballers play in an empty stadium (big screens inexplicably lit up) and thought I was hallucinating: How come this vision (of the future) doesn't scare the sh*t out of us? (Plus, these guys like to spit: Yuck, when they remove their masks!)
Planet of the Humans is a tone poem more than a documentary. The vision is in the title. It suggests not so much defeatism as disturbing resignation in the face of Climate Change. Moore and Gibbs argue that We Just Don't Get It: The much ballyhooed "transition" from an age of fossil-fuel dependency to renewable energy is illusory, ineffectual, and too late. The "intermittent" technologies - Solar and Wind - as well as biomass burning, will never be fully removed from fossil-fuel dependency and/or usage. Even if these technologies have improved exponentially in the last decade (when the film was being produced), we humans should be spending our time preparing for the now-unavoidable climate apocalypse ahead. As far as Gibbs and Moore are concerned, pushing renewables at this stage is little more than stylin' out COVID face masks.
And, yes, recognized leaders of the environmental movement - Al Gore, Bill McKibben, Sierra Club - even if not personally cashing in, have, by partnering with venture capitalists (like Goldman Sachs), corporates and other oil-associated companies, put the "problem" into the hands of private interests and reduced the role of public policymaking. As far as the filmmaking pair are concerned, putting the problem into the controlling hands of capitalists is exactly the wrong thing to do because their interest is growth and profit, not public interest, or, it seems, the fate of the human race. With the global population expanding, almost out of control, with a projected 11.7 billion people by 2100. Prodded by Gibbs, Penn State, anthropologist, Nina Jablonsky, tells us that population growth "continues to be not the elephant, but the herd of elephants in the room".
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