Destruction of Reality: Told Through Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

by Donna Militar

  1. Introduction

‘The world is deathly ill’ is an idea and statement that people around the world have overlooked as they continue to be consumed by new technologies and everything along with it. Individuals often forget that every action comes with a consequence, whether it’s from the consequences of telling a lie to a friend or having to face the truth of the horrific condition that Earth is currently facing. In 2018, directors Edward Burtynsky, Jennifer Baichwal, and Nicholas de Pencier created Anthropocene: The Human Epoch, a documentary that investigates the life that the people of earth have drained from the planet as they plunder its sources with unconstrained wrath. The idea of Anthropocene is that modern civilization has joined a new era with the growth of the human industry, land expansion, and resource abstraction that drastically changed the natural synchronization of the world’s ecosystems. That being said, Anthropocene crucially utilizes the visual supremacy of cinema to caution the audience that the beauty of Earth is not what it once was through the unseen realities of the world in order to shed light on the issues that have risen in order to cause a change. Through this notion, the following analysis will discuss the visual power of cinema, how this form of documentary, genre, and technology have such an effective impact for sharing stories on the social issue, and lastly, evaluate the way the form of ending of the documentary had created a negative impact on the viewers.

2. The Visual Power of Cinema

Through the years, documentaries about climate change have become a prominent tool to communicate to a wider audience in attempts to raise concern, increase the importance of the argument in political conversation, and fuel action, through the power of cinematography. In Anthropocene, the directors have managed to carry out their viewpoints using a variety of elements, such as mise es scene, and the camera works of framing, angles, colours, sounds, and narrative to carry out their message to the viewers.

To begin with the opening of the documentary, the first scene reveals a burning fire that is over a minute long. The fire starts off slow as the hues of yellow and orange begin to brighten and intensify, as the fire then begins to fasten, the volume increases, and creates a dramatic introductory scene. Immediately, the next scene cuts to display a cool tone of water running against a mountain of rocks with a smooth and relaxing undertone. This form of colour enhancement that is achieved in post-production editing, not only foreshadows the message but turns into a pattern formed by the directors. Warm tones are repeated throughout the whole documentary to enrich the significance of what they are trying to get across. For instance, orange often represents pessimism, aggression and builds tension over a slow amount of time (Fetterman et al. 97). While yellow is more of a captivating colour that creates a rememberable effect on people, that also provokes a range of emotions as it rapidly moves, like anxiety, nervousness, and feeling scared (Fetterman et al. 97). However, cool colours, such as blue, turquoise, and green represent relaxation, peace, and trust (Fetterman et al. 97). Henceforth, the directors are displaying the urgency (through the use of warm tones) of the extent to how humans are ultimately ruining the earth, by stripping away nature and its peace. This is also evident within the first 25 minutes of the documentary, the directors display a long shot of a coal mine in Westphalia, Germany. This shot exhibits a highly detailed warm tone red ground with startling engraves of the circular and straight-line pattern from the huge blades that have been taken from the earth, with a contrast of harsh dark brown, and highlights of yellow. All while the background displays a cool tone blue foggy sky. In this particular shot, the directors have produced an eye-shocking force of displaying the impact these types of machinery have formed on earth to generate a greater impact on the viewers through the use of both the lighting, colours, and their imagery.

Furthermore, the directors have used the element of framing, angles, and positions to dictate the intensity and amplify the impact that has been made on Earth. One of the focal points of the film brings the viewers to Carrara, Italy, to witness the process of the resource’s elicitation to an operatic extent. The scene begins with a medium shot of a marble mountain, as the camera slowly tilts up with dramatic opera music beginning to play. The next shot captures a closeup of a backhoe battle with the mountain as the workers excavate the marble. The truck forcefully jolts up its heels as the front end grasps the marble and tear a chunk from the mountainside. Afterward, the next scene displays as the camera pulls back from the struggle and zooms out, allowing the full magnitude of the procedure to dominate the screen, alongside creating an establishing shot of the scenery. That being said, the viewers see the giant marble mountain and the impact that the workers have done. Therefore, the directors have created a form of narrow narrative, displaying how humans have managed to tear these elements from the planet. The marble mine starts the scene as a body of beauty and ends the shot as a substance of violence, creating the ideology that one allure is at the expense of another. It is through this representation that the narrator begins to explain the first topic of “Terraforming”, the act of altering the earth’s surface for human needs. The following scene cuts the opera music and displays a close-up shot of an artist sculpting a marble statue, with the only diegetic sound being displayed, of the pneumatic hammers forming the statue. Consequently, the massage is continued, of the narration creating a perception of how capitalism has driven the world to tear apart nature’s beauty for profit, and all of its extent it is willing to go through, despite its results. Additionally, the directors have formed a pattern of allowing diegetic sound to be heard on times of earth be altered, and therefore be destroyed to enhance the massage and ‘point fingers’ for who is at the fault of the various elements to climate change.

3. The Effects of a Wrong Ending

Anthropocene consists of multiple global issues that have drastically impacted the earth, however, the narrative, the ending, and the way the directors have tackled these issues created an impact on the documentary overall. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch is the third documentary of the series by Jennifer Baichwal and Nicholas de Pencier with the collaboration of photographer Edward Burtynsky, tailing Manufactured Landscapes and Watermark. This documentary has taken over sixteen years to make, to allow a strike of a critical yet persistent balance between awareness and advocacy.

Furthermore, Anthropocene main goal is to allow the audience to observe and receive a new insight on the issues that are taking place, however the directors lacked the depth of knowledge on what people can do in order to take action. The ending of the documentary vocalized how the scientist of Anthropocene Working Group is planning to build a formal proposal of the actions that need to take place, and how the research will continue to take place. While it is important for that to take place, the directors have managed to solely focus on what is happening to the earth, rather than the emotional impact that will take place on the viewers and how they can help. Throughout the documentary, they speak highly on all the issues that take place in the world, from technofossils, anthroturbation, to climate change, and extinction of animals, through intriguing cinematography, unfortunately, they don’t show how to stop it. Ashley Bieniek-Tobasco wrote Communicating climate change through documentary film: imagery, emotion, and efficacy, discussing the results on page 13, states that the elimination of actions and what such act can accomplish prevents and blocks the viewer’s motivations to take action and belief that taking on the act would make a difference and have and effect. Nonetheless, this form of response comes from the viewpoint about the significant scale at which climate change manages, and also the skepticism about the influence of the scale a single individual has on such a massive issue. Additionally, a repeated component among the documentary is as follows; displaying the evidence of the massive issue, then showing the results and level that it has caused to the earth, and then moving on to the next issue. This repeated element has produced an open-ending situation, leaving the audience with loose ends, causing distraught and frustration among the viewers (Bieniek-Tobasco et al. 13). Henceforth generating the question on the integrity of the directors considering communicating these topics are already difficult enough in today’s society. That being said, these forms of open-ended sequences may then complicate reactions to climate change and the various topics that the earth faces in the future (Beattie et al. 106).

4. Conclusion

Anthropocene has achieved to use the visual power of cinematography to bring awareness and inform the audience that Earth is drastically changing by displaying the hidden realities of today’s world through a captivating narrative.  Throughout the documentary, the directors have managed to carry out an intriguing perspective through the use of various camera works and postproduction elements. Such as creating repeated symbolism within the colouring and lighting, utilizing framing, angles, and precise editing to create a dramatic emphasis of the setting, and the use of diegetic sounds all to enhance caution and bring attention to the issues occurring on a daily basis. In addition, the directors have used a precise form of narrative to convey a clear point of view, however, they have finished the documentary with an open ending that has ultimately left the viewers both in shock and in distress. Overall, Anthropocene has captured the beauty that the earth has to offer while also bringing to light distraught that humans has caused, thus generating a conversation among society that earth is ill and it must be healed or else no one is safe.  

5. Works Cited

Baichwal, Jennifer, et al. Anthropocene: The Human Epoch. Kino Lorber, 2018.

Beattie, Geoffrey, Laura Sale, and Laura Mcguire. “An Inconvenient Truth? can a Film really  Affect Psychological Mood and our Explicit Attitudes Towards Climate Change?” Semiotica, vol. 2011, no. 187, 2011, pp. 105-115.

Bieniek-Tobasco, Ashley, et al. “Communicating Climate Change through Documentary Film:    Imagery, Emotion, and Efficacy.” Climatic Change, vol. 154, no. 1, 2019, pp. 1-18.

Fetterman, Adam K., Tianwei Liu, and Michael D. Robinson. “Extending Color Psychology to    the Personality Realm: Interpersonal Hostility Varies by Red Preferences and Perceptual Biases.” Journal of Personality, vol. 83, no. 1, 2015, pp. 106-116.