World Environment Day: From Avatar to Wall-E, 'cli-fi' films that hold more importance now than ever

FP Staff

June 05, 2018 16:26:23 IST

Once perhaps relegated to National Geographic and BBC documentary features, environmentally conscious narratives have gone Hollywood in the last couple of decades. Mainstream filmmakers like James Cameron and Steven Soderbergh, and animation studios like Pixar, have made memorable films that have since shaped our environmental attitudes.

These eco-films are important for their potential impact on the public. Climate change itself is difficult to observe for those not trained in environmental sciences; typically people do not notice small changes that happen over time, and carbon dioxide emissions are invisible to the naked eye. This is where fiction comes in.

Consider, for instance, the prevalence of fiction about nuclear war during the Cold War. These stories were widely credited with helping society envision the future after a nuclear exchange even as political leaders worked to prevent such an event. Books (and later film adaptations) like Fail-Safe and On the Beach shaped society’s understanding of the consequences of nuclear war. Television shows like the Twilight Zone featured stories – and warnings – about nuclear weapons prominently in their plots.

Hence, environmental (or cli-fi) movies have emerged as a niche genre, taking the pomp of doomsday science-fiction flicks and mixing it with the underlying message of environmental awareness.

So, on this World Environment Day, we take a look at some films that not only depict the important, and often inconvenient, relationship between humans and the environment but also offer some important cautionary lessons.

A still from Avatar. Image via Twiiter

A still from Avatar. Image via Twiiter

Avatar (2009)

James Cameron's Avatar tells a story set in the future, after humans have degraded the jungle through industrial folly and a resurgence of nature overtakes the human-built environment. Along with its breathtaking scenery, and stunning 3D and visual effects, its Mother Nature vs industrial greed storyline warns how humans eventually come around to destroy everything for their own gain. Its overarching environmental messages include the cost of deforestation, corporate responsibility, the pillaging and destruction of indigenous populations.

Cameron once spoke of how Avatar was a metaphor for "how we treat the natural world". "There's a sense of entitlement - 'We're here, we're big, we've got the guns, we've got the technology, we've got the brains, we therefore are entitled to every damn thing on this planet.' That's not how it works and we're going to find out the hard way if we don't wise up and start seeking a life that's in balance with the natural cycles of life on earth," he had said to The Telegraph.

Soylent Green (1973)

A still from Soylent Green. Image via Twiiter

A still from Soylent Green. Image via Twiiter

Soylent Green, the 1973 science-fiction film depicts a dystopian Earth coping with the ravages of overpopulation. The greenhouse effect has destroyed most of Earth's plant and animal life as humans depend upon vegetable protein soylent blocks. Richard Fleischer's film was loosely based on the 1966 science fiction novel Make Room! Make Room!. Starring Charlton Heston and Leigh Taylor-Young, the film makes you really wonder about the possible annihilation of the human race amid dwindling resources and ever-increasing population.

Erin Brockovich (2000)

A still from Erin Brockovich. Image via Twiiter

A still from Erin Brockovich. Image via Twiiter

Environmental activist Erin Brockovich was made famous by Julia Roberts in the Oscar-nominated movie from 2000 about her fight over the pollution of a California town. Brockovich’s efforts to sue Pacific Gas & Electric for polluting the water supply of a small Southern California town were adapted into a big-screen story, Erin Brockovich. The environmental advocate helped investigate this major case of groundwater contaminatio in the early 1990s. Roberts went on to win the Oscar for Best Actress for the movie.

Princess Mononoke (1997)

A still from Princess Mononoke. Image via Twiiter

A still from Princess Mononoke. Image via Twiiter

Princess Mononoke is an animated tale set in 14th-century Japan with a message about the need to live in harmony with nature. From Japanese animation maestro Hayao Miyazaki, the story of this 1997 film pits people who plunder forests by mining iron for weapons against the princess and her family of wolves. Caught in the middle is Prince Ashitaka, who sympathises with the princess’s defense of nature but understands the miners’ need to make a living.

More than two decades later, this classic eco-film continues to capture our collective environmental anxieties.

WALL-E (2008)

A still from Wall-E. Image via Twiiter

A still from Wall-E. Image via Twiiter

Disney-Pixar blasted off into uncharted territory with Wall-E, a space adventure mixing an unusual love story with sombre messages about the future of Earth and humankind.

The character Wall-E, or Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-Class, is the last of a cadre of robots tasked with cleaning up piles of trash discarded by humans who abandoned the planet centuries before. The human race set off on a luxury space cruise during a planned five-year clean-up that lasts much longer and results in unfortunate changes in the human physique and psyche. In the meantime, Wall-E faithfully reports to work each day on Earth with his pet cockroach and a lunch box in which he stores the knick knacks he finds among mountains of trash. The arrival of a sleek girl robot named Eve, sent to Earth by the orbiting humans to look for plant life, sends Wall-E on an adventure that changes his own and humanity’s destiny.

Wall-E features dystopian landscapes, social commentary and a lack of conventional dialogue that are rare under the Walt Disney Co banner, but it sticks to Pixar’s basic themes of love, loyalty and friendship.

With inputs from agencies

Updated Date: Jun 05, 2018 18:54 PM