REVIEW: Documentary Film ‘PLANETARY’
April 23, 2015 By Trevor Richardson
Planetary begins with astronauts, men and women who have left the planet to turn and see the whole of it behind them, and their emotional and philosophical take of the Planet Earth. As the imagery pans quietly and peacefully between shots of space exploration, the atmosphere, the Northern Lights, and the sun peaking over the edge of the globe, these people talk about their understanding of our true place in the world and how they instantly knew, not felt, but knew that everything was connected. The cinematography is gorgeous and the thoughts from these rare individuals on the fragility and sacredness of the planet matches the imagery and music so perfectly that is difficult not to be moved.
From there a conversation begins about the narrative of human beings. Philosophers, authors, scientists, and more all weigh in on this idea of “our story,” the story we tell ourselves to shape the world and our existence into something we can understand. The claim is made by some that we used to have a story, but now we have none. There was a time where stories were told about how nature gave us life and continues to do so every day, and those people lived in closer harmony to the natural world. The story that we have replaced it with, however, is that we are separate or even superior to nature. We invent ways to control it or even push it away. The modern story is that we aren’t a part of the natural world, we live on top of it. There is an “otherness” to it that allows us to numb ourselves to the things we do to our planet in order to keep the procedures of modern living on an even keel.
As a result of living according to a story of separation, a belief that we are merely standing on nature rather than connecting with it, our goal has become mere economic prosperity. This unspoken narrative has resulted in a world view that tells us everything is consumable, everything is a resource to be obtained and used at all costs. The result is a world that is as spiritually crippled as it is mired in physical and environmental problems.
We often feel that we are missing something in our own lives, within ourselves, that thing cliche describes as a hole that can’t be filled, and so we search for something to fill it with. We do more, we buy more, we take more prescription drugs, drink, invest in work, all in an attempt to cure ourselves and that great hole. The premise of Planetary and its myriad of thinkers is that you are not feeling inadequate because of a flaw in yourself, you feel in adequate because the nature of society is flawed. We are not living the way we are supposed to, we view the planet and nature as something “other” than ourselves, we view ourselves as an individual that is against the odds, using every resource we can find in order to survive. The modern world is built on isolation, selfishness, and paranoia, not only against our fellow human beings, but against the entire planet.
Planetary makes a lot of good points. Though it is never said outright, I began to get a feeling that I was a single cell in a larger body, or maybe an electron circling an atom, crying out into the void, “What does it all mean? Why am I here?” The answer would be, of course, that you are here to make this atom what it is. Without you, it wouldn’t be helium, it would be hydrogen. The point is, we underestimate our role in the world, in what is a connected, circulating biosphere, where every little thing you do makes an impact.
It interests me to think that we are raised to understand that every plant on Earth has a role to play in making the clockwork of nature function. We all learn as children that the trees take CO2 out of the air and replace it with oxygen. Their role is clear and their connection to the mechanics of the planet is undeniable. According to Planetary, you are no different, you are just behaving as if you are. That selfishness and isolationism of the modern world has taught you to believe that the trees are there to scrub the air for you. Trees exist so that we can breathe. We think everything is here just for us because of this intellectual narrative that the documentary is discussing. We think the world is for us and therefore we don’t think we are a part of it. We are using it. That’s not the same thing. It’s ironic to think that not only are we cutting down trees in spite of the fact that they are there to purify the air, but that they are even there as an intellectual example of how living things are meant to coexist with the world. We aren’t just destroying the quality of our atmosphere, we’re destroying the quality of consciousness.
It is said that there are three stories to choose from to make sense of our lives. There is the belief that business as usual will eventually win out, that we just need more economic growth and stability, more industry and resources, and someday things will be good again. Then there are the activists and scientists who seek to analyze the assumptions behind industrial growth as a solution for the future. Unraveling these assumptions is only part of it, however. The third story is that a revolution is taking place, that people, much like the world they live in, are beginning to reject the old assumptions, to see through them, and demand a change.
Charles Eisenstein, one of Planetary’s speakers, put it best when he said, “Normal has to become unsustainable.” Evolution of a species only results from a need. Evolve or die, as the saying goes. The diversity of the biosphere is the result of an ancient species facing an abrupt change in its environment and adapting the tools for survival. Similarly, in attempting to create our own world with our own rules, we think we have harnessed the laws of nature for own benefit, but the law of evolution still applies. As our current “normal” becomes unsustainable we are beginning to evolve our technologies and our lifestyles.
Planetary surmises that the basis of technology is evolving your environment outside the purview of evolution. That is only partly right, the fact remains that even as we distance ourselves from the natural world, it’s rules still apply to us. The first stage in any evolutionary cycle is one of chaos and destruction. Early life was brutal and savage, then came order, balance. Our technological evolution is in the waning days of its brutality, and we are slowly beginning to see a need for harmony. We are reaching an enlightenment that is telling us that we can manage to change our world without destroying our habitat. The entire conversation reminded me of this great line from Mr. Spock in The Original Series of Star Trek, “They came from a time when their technology was advancing far faster than their wisdom.”
This documentary is an indictment of our lack of wisdom and a call to arms to those who would have it. It is not a Luddite or anti-industrial message so much as a passionate plea to use what we have with grace and respect. Most profound of all is the commentary about the way our lifestyle affects the human spirit. You get the feeling that we, like alcoholics drinking more in order to feel better, are ruining ourselves and our world by trying to get more of the very thing that is hurting us. The answer isn’t more stuff, it’s less. It’s reconnecting with the world and each other. There is a line in here where a man from the West asks a man from the East what he thinks about our way of life. The man says, “In a word: lonely.”
That pretty much sums up what Planetary is all about. We are wounded, lonely individuals scouring the globe for meaning and answers without realizing that all of the digging and burning and cutting we do to find those answers are the only thing keeping us from getting them. It’s an irony fit for a Greek tragedy and to see it all so plainly makes it impossible to not come to the conclusion that it has to stop.
I could have used a little more fact and science. The entire thing really just plays out like a lengthy philosophical discussion among friends. It’s a lot of opinion, a lot of personal insight, and no real hard data to back it up. However, the things that are said are so warm and calming and true that it hardly matters. In the end, facts or not, it is difficult to argue with what they are saying. You race around with nowhere to go. You work hard for things you don’t want. You strive to impress people you don’t like. And all of it, all of it, is hurting the entire planet — you, your neighbors, all of the people in it, and even the natural world. It’s interesting to think that a movie that essentially tells you that your way of life is polluting the world, physically and spiritually, can somehow still be so positive and uplifting.
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