________________ CM . . . . Volume XVIII Number 35 . . . . May 11, 2012


Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie = Force de la Nature: Le Film de David Suzuki.

Sturla Gunnarsson (Director). Janice Tufford, Sturla Gunnarsson & Yves J. Ma (Producers).
Montreal, PQ: National Film Board of Canada, 2010.
92 min., 32 sec., DVD, $99.95.

Grades 7 and up / Ages 12 and up.

Review by Barbara McMillan.

**** /4



In my living memory, the human relationship with the planet has transmogrified. We have become a force like no other species in the three point eight billion years that life has existed on Earth. And the ascension to this position of power has happened with explosive speed. It took all of human existence to reach a population of one million people early in the nineteenth century. Then, in less than two centuries, it shot almost straight up past six point eight billion. Each time the population of the planet doubles, the people who are alive at that moment number more than all the other people who have ever lived. But now we are also living more than twice as long as people did in the past. So our numbers and longevity alone mean that as the most numerous mammal on the planet we now have a very heavy ecological footprint. It takes a lot of land, air and water to support us and keep us alive. A global economy, built on supplying an ever-expanding consumer demand, exploits the entire planet as a source of raw materials. So when you take all of that together - our numbers, our vast technological muscle power, our exploding consumptive demand, and a global economy – we have become a new kind of force on the planet. One species, us, is single handedly altering the biological, physical, and chemical features of the planet in a mere instance of cosmic time. We have become a force of nature. (David Suzuki.)

In the film, Force of Nature, David Suzuki talks about the evolution of the CBC television program The Nature of Things which he helped to develop and continues to host. When first broadcast 30 years ago, it was not unusual for a filmed interview to be edited in such a way that viewers watched a talking head for three to four minutes. Today, Suzuki suggests that twenty to thirty seconds used is this manner is considered too long. The consequence has been “no time for profundity, for development of thought.” Viewers are subjected to “relentless jolts per minute” and are “carried along by sensationalism rather than really getting the story.” This is not the case with filmmaker Sturla Gunnarsson’s biographical documentary about Suzuki. Gunnarsson uses excerpts from Suzuki’s December 2009 Legacy Lecture at the Chan Centre in Vancouver and wraps this footage around events in Suzuki’s life that helped to make him the scientist, communicator, advocate, and activist he is.

     Suzuki has described The Legacy Lecture as “a distillation of my life and thoughts… what I want to say before I die.” As one would expect, it is scientific and critical while being poignant and edifying. In creating Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie, Gunnarsson has paid careful attention to the contents of the lecture and inserted film, both old and/or new recordings, that further develops, on a more personal level, what Suzuki had just spoken about. As one example, when Suzuki introduces himself to his audience at the Chan Centre and explains the origin and meaning of his given and family names, the film switches to footage of the bombing of Pearl Harbor and Suzuki’s visits to a Tokyo barber for a haircut and to the Nikkei Memorial Gardens in Slocan Valley, BC. In both scenes, he describes the consequences of the 1942 War Measures Act on himself, his parents and other Canadian born-Japanese and Japanese immigrants. The film then shifts to the segment of the lecture that is captured in the excerpt above before returning to scenes of the Enola Gay, the bombing of Hiroshima, and Suzuki in present day Japan for the August 6 Peace Memorial Ceremony at the Hiroshima Peace Garden. It is in sequences such as these that Suzuki is most reflective. He mentions the instantaneous death of over one hundred thousand people and the horrific suffering of the tens of thousand survivors, but he focuses on a rumor that spread through Hiroshima several days after the bombing which implied “that nothing would ever grow in Hiroshima again; the atomic bomb [had] sterilized the land.” For the survivors, the thought that “Nature, itself, had been wiped out by the nuclear bomb… was more horrible than what survivors were going through.” Only when plants began to sprout did survivors begin to believe that Nature hadn’t been killed. For Suzuki, this “story” is as important today as it was in 1945. He states:

…Nature is once again threatened by the enormous power of human kind. We are driving species to extinction at a rate that hasn’t been seen for sixty-five million years. The idea that millions of species are going to go out of existence within our lifetime is to me every bit as horrifying as the notion that Hiroshima was once sterilized.

          Further along in Force of Nature, Suzuki returns to this theme. This time he is watching a blue fin tuna auction in Tokyo where buyers pay tens of thousands of dollars for a single carcass. Blue fin tuna will likely be extinct in a decade. Suzuki describes this as “an intergenerational crime” and suggests that today’s children will look back on events such as these and say it was criminal “that we took part in the liquidation of a species that should have been the right of our children and grand children and all future generations to know, enjoy and to use.”

     Gunnarsson gives viewers a glimpse of Suzuki’s scientific work, his relationship with his father, his interest in translating the “language of science into something that can be not only understandable but also interesting”, his recognition of what it means to be part of the environment and to live in balance with sacred elements given a biosphere that is finite and fixed. Suzuki, in his Legacy Lecture, provides one of the best explanations, a thought problem linked to the inhaling and exhaling of argon atoms, of the web of life. He also mounts one of the best arguments I have heard for immediately changing they way we live on the planet. Suzuki asks that we envision a test tube filled to the rim with a nutrient medium for bacteria as a model for planet Earth and one bacterium that grows exponentially by dividing every minute as a model for the human population. At one minute, there are two bacteria, at two minutes there are four bacteria, at three minutes there are eight, and so on. At 60 minutes, the test tube is packed with bacteria, and there is no food left. Suzuki asks, “When was the test tube half full? The answer, is 59 minutes. It was one-quarter full at 58 minutes, one-eighth full at 57 minutes, and one-sixteenth full at 56 minutes. Every scientist that Suzuki has spoken with agrees that we are past the 59th minute. He maintains that we are not asking the important questions. These are, “How much is enough?” “Are there no limits?” “Are we happier with all this stuff?” “What is an economy for?” In response to the last question, he asserts that when economic value is the measure, the “things that matter most to us are worthless.” He ends by claiming that we have the imagination to dream a different future and the will to make this dream a reality, and he exclaims, “So let’s get on with making it happen and show what our species is really capable of.”

     I suggest this film be widely shown and discussed in classrooms, community centres, public libraries, civic meetings, wherever people gather. It will be necessary to “rewind” and listen again to passages where Suzuki speaks about topics mentioned in the review as well as others the review has not addressed. His sentences are filled with meaning and need to be unpacked, considered and understood, before running the film forward. Hopefully, this will help those who watch it to make the decision to live in a way that protects the health of the biosphere and, thus, the well-being of humankind.


Barbara McMillan is a teacher educator and a professor of science education in the Faculty of Education, the University of Manitoba.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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