Anthropocene – The Human Era is a documentary film released in 2018 and directed by Jennifer Baichwal, Edward Burtynsky and Nicholas de Pencier. It refers to the hypothesis popularized in the 2000s by chemist Paul Crutzen that the impact of human activities on the global ecosystem would initiate a new geological era. As of 2009 the International Commission on Stratigraphy established the Anthropocene Work Group to study this hypothesis. It should be noted that this scenario is disputed, both on the basis of geological advice and in terms of the relationship with time, given the disproportion between the geological periods of the Earth, which are measured in millions of years, and the short and recent history of homo sapiens on this planet.
The Anthropocene can also be a metaphor for a radical change in the way we interpret the relationship between our species and the Earth. The natural environment, experienced for centuries as a source of sustenance but also as a threat, at a certain point is perceived as a vulnerable reality, over which we exercise a power that can be destructive. Here arises the (new!) intention to protect nature and ourselves from human activities.
The film helps us reflect on this level. It is not a documentary aimed at spreading scientific ideas, but above all a work of poetry, which uses aesthetics to move our sensibilities and stimulate our imagination.
Staying on this level, we can notice three aspects of the film. First, the sense of estrangement caused by the beauty of the photography, taking into account that the images refer to confronting and mostly unlivable places. Second, the representation of the power of machines as a threatening force, technological monsters apparently endowed with a life of their own and beyond human control. Third, the alienation of people, who appear out of place in their own places of life and work.
The term “anthropocene,” the reference to anthrōpos, to the human in general, can be misleading. What is in a destructive relationship with nature is not humanity in the abstract, but a society in which there are destructive economic mechanisms, inequalities and challenging responsibilities. Aggressive behavior toward the Earth results from a particular model of exploitation, and this deserves reflection.
DOI: La Civiltà Cattolica, En. Ed. Vol. 6, no. 6 art. 15, 0621: 10.32009/22072446.0621.15