The comparison is inevitable, so let’s put this up front: An Inconvenient Truth is a much better movie than The 11th Hour, but The 11th Hour is a far more important one.
Directed by sisters Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen and produced under the aegis of Leonardo DiCaprio, who serves as its somewhat uncomfortable host, The 11th Hour has the unrelieved earnestness of a student film, and the stock footage the directors use to liven up its parade of talking heads is sometimes risibly random. But if the movie’s presentation is unexciting (and thus a lot less likely to excite major media and make inroads on shopping malls), the ideas it puts forth are both more frightening and more energizing than those in Al Gore’s carefully weighted polemic.
Although its thrust was environmental, the governing intelligence behind An Inconvenient Truth was political. For all of his apocalyptic scenarios, Gore was careful not to turn off his audience by suggesting that they might have to take steps more drastic than switching to hybrid cars.
The vast majority of The 11th Hour’s voices are scientists, many drawn from the subset known as bioneers, and they are a lot less prone to mincing words. Rather than talking about saving the planet, they make it clear that the continued survival of the human species is what’s really at stake. “The Earth has all the time in the world,” says Oren Lyons. “We don’t.”
That’s not to say The 11th Hour is an extended NOVA episode. In fact, some of its most profound passages have more to do with philosophy than hard science. Stanford’s Stephen Schneider points out that, rather than being a means for improving the quality of life, acquisition has become a means in itself, inaugurating a vicious cycle of consumption. As the World Economic Forum’s Nathan Gardels puts it, “You can never get enough of what you don’t really want.”
The 11th Hour is less compelling when it switches from the terrifying facts of the present to the slim-seeming hopes for the future. But then, if more people saw more movies like this, those hopes wouldn’t seem so slim.
THE 11TH HOUR * * *
Directed by Nadia Conners and Leila Conners Petersen. • Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Mikhail Gorbachev, Bill McKibben, David Suzuki and Stephen Hawking. • Not rated, 95 min. • At the Osio Cinemas.