These critiques of the bad science driving
the ecological disasters in the film are supported by the
multiple plot holes and revealing mistakes in the film, including
an impossible yet heroic journey led by father and climatologist,
Jack Hall (Dennis Quaid), in which Jack and two colleagues
tramp through seventy miles of sub-zero blizzards in less
than two days’ time.
Frederick and Mary Ann Brussat give
a different reading, one that may resonate with the wide range
of viewers captivated by the film. In a review in Spirituality
and Practice Magazine, they assert, “Whatever
you think of the scientific explanations given for the phenomenon,
the movie deserves praise for making one thing very clear:
humans, especially in the industrialized countries, are the
evil-doers who are responsible for the destruction of the
good earth.” For the Brussats, ecological messages, no matter
how ineffectively they are presented, serve to educate the
public, showing viewers that humans have contributed to environmental
devastation. Yet the Brussats use a religious envelope
for couching their critique and invoke evil and apocalyptic
visions that, again, veil the environmental politics of the
film. They, like The Day After Tomorrow, hyperbolize their assertions and, therefore,
may invalidate them because they rest on irrational emotional
arguments rather than rational and logical evidence.
Director Roland Emmerich’s assertion
that the film’s climate-change exaggerations were intended
as a way to add to its dramatic appeal points to another consequence
of the “sublimely ridiculous” ecological disasters: large
box office sales. All of the 258 reviews on the Internet Movie
Database admit that the environmental catastrophes on display
in the film are spectacularly powerful, drawing audiences
who crave the entertainment value that a highly special effects-driven
disaster movie provides. The special effects paid off: The
Day After Tomorrow grossed $528 million worldwide and earned
a stunning $85.8 million during its opening weekend.
For us, more appealing are ecological
themes beyond the surface meaning, themes that help us answer
questions like, how is this eco-disaster? And how
is this eco-disaster film different from those that have come
before it? In ecological disaster films from the 1970s (for
example, Soylent Green ) and eco-comic disaster films from
the 1980s forward (such as Eight Legged Freaks
), disaster plots are driven by two
different kinds of heroes: tragic pioneers and comic community
builders. The Day After Tomorrow, on the other hand, relies on a different
kind of hero, one that arguably combines both tragic and comic
characteristics. Our reading of The Day After Tomorrow
attempts to make the idea of the new ecological (eco)-hero
more transparent rather than rearticulating the obvious ecological
messages on display in the film.
Both The Day After Tomorrow
and Children of Men (2006) illustrate similar visions of the new
eco-hero. In both films, heroic roles are filled not by tragic
pioneers or even bumbling comic heroes, but by fathers seeking
to save their own children or children they adopt as their
own from an environment that humanity has made toxic in multiple
ways. In The Day After Tomorrow Jack Hall attempts
not only to save the world from global warming but to save
his son Sam (Jake Gyllenhaal) from a flooded and frozen New
York City library. In Children of Men, Theo Faron
(Clive Owen) agrees to help an activist group transport Kee
(Claire-Hope Ashite) and her soon-to-be-born child to a group
of benevolent scientists on the coast, saving the only surviving
baby in a dying world. In fact, in the film’s opening, crowds
of people mourn the loss of the youngest living person, a
teenager murdered by a fan.
This new breed of eco-hero fails to
fit in categories of tragic or comic heroes as defined by
either Aristotle or Joseph W. Meeker . Meeker expands Aristotle’s categories to
include the natural world in his eco-critical approach to
Classic literature. Meeker’s tragic heroes in the natural
world are the ecological pioneers, “the loners of the natural
world, the tragic heroes who sacrifice themselves in satisfaction
of mysterious inner commands which they alone can hear” (“The
Comic Mode” 161). His comic heroes build community. Meeker
argues that once ecosystems mature, heroic solitary pioneers
become not only unnecessary but also subordinate to the group.
In a mature or climax ecosystem, “it is the community itself
that really matters, and it is likely to be an extremely durable
community so long as balance is maintained among its many
elements” (Meeker “The Comic Mode” 163). Comic heroes emerge
from these climax ecosystems.
Jack Hall and Theo Faron serve the
community while maintaining solitary quests, however. These
two new eco-heroes combine the best qualities of the tragic
and comic heroes to build a better world community while also
saving children who are closest to them. Our first view of
Jack Hall highlights his more traditionally heroic features.
We first see him working as a climatologist at the North Pole,
cutting samples out of the ice to study the impact of greenhouse
gases on the environment. One of his colleagues continues
to drill until the ice collapses, leaving a giant canyon into
which he and a large vehicle fall, but Jack saves him and
then jumps the canyon to retrieve the equipment on the other
side. Jack leaps back, makes it to the edge and hands his
equipment to another colleague, but he too falls into the
ice canyon and this time saves himself, grabbing the wall
of ice with an ice pick.
This physically challenging feat allows
Jack to serve as another kind of hero, one who is intellectually
driven and seeks to save the world from the consequences of
climate change he endured at the North Pole. Jack, looking
like Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, explains global warming to a world delegation
considering the Kyoto Accord and encourages all nations, including
the United States, to approve
it. In spite of these two daring acts — one physical and the
other intellectual — Jack’s many weaknesses are also on display
in the film. When he returns from his latest Arctic trip,
his house plants have nearly died, his son has failed calculus,
and his ex-wife has lost faith in his ability even to pick
up his son in time to get him to the airport for a scholastic
These everyday events, however, are
juxtaposed with images of worldwide eco-disaster. Professor
Terry Rapson (Ian Holm), an oceanographer, discusses the possibility
of a new Ice Age, and reports of its oncoming effects soon
come in from all over the world. Pieces of ice fall from the
sky in Tokyo, destroying cars and killing any people they strike. Snowstorms
drift into New Delhi.
Storms hit Jack’s son Sam’s flight, on its way to New
York. And when Sam and his friend Laura (Emmy Rossum) reach
the city, they watch from their taxi as flocks of birds migrate
away from the city, seemingly disturbed by climate change.
More storms, golf ball-sized hail,
and tornadoes hit Los
Angeles. The LA tornadoes blow across highways, knocking over
cars and rolling them down the road in a spectacular effect.
A weather station building is cut in half vertically, so a
reporter falls to his death when his office collapses, and
only a janitor survives, opening a door to empty space left
by the crashed rooms. All of these spectacular events are
explained by Professor Rapson, who reveals that the delicate
balance between fresh and salt waters has been destroyed,
dramatically changing the North Atlantic current. When Jack enters Professor Rapson’s data into
his climate model, the results are devastating. According
to their conclusions, the Earth will be in a full-scale ice
age in six to eight weeks.
More disastrous events point to this
upcoming ice age: frozen helicopter pilots in Scotland, and massive flooding in New York City with tidal waves catapulting down
its broad avenues. Sam and the rest of his scholastic bowl
friends make their way into the New York Public Library, and
the father/son narrative takes center stage. Sam finds a water-logged
pay phone in the library, calls his father, and hears his
father’s promise: “wait it out and burn what you can. I will
come for you. I will come for you.”
The rest of the film revolves around
Jack’s quest to save his son, and his son’s evolution into
a new eco-hero like his father. Jack makes one more attempt
to sway the government machinery into action and finally succeeds,
packing up his arctic gear and taking off to save his son,
with two colleagues, Jason Evans (Dash Mihok) and Frank Harris
(Jay O. Sanders), tagging along. The way is treacherous, and
their long walk from a crashed car near Philadelphia parallels
the escape attempt made by a police officer and some followers
from the library, with the freezing deaths of two followers
aligning with the death of one of Jack’s friends, Frank, when
he falls through the glass ceiling of a mall.
Jack’s ex-wife Lucy’s (Sela Ward) heroism
is highlighted after Frank’s death, when an ambulance arrives
to save her and a young patient, Peter, whom she has refused
to leave alone. The family melodrama becomes the main focus
until the film’s end, even though it is occasionally broken
with more global concerns, like the death of the President
and the fate of American refugees in Mexico. So after Lucy’s heroic
act, it comes as no surprise that Sam too might act heroically.
He has shown some signs of heroism when he grabs Laura and
drags her into the library and away from the tidal wave, but
he gains cunning when a cut on Laura’s leg festers and penicillin
is needed. With some ingenuity, Sam makes snowshoes out of
chair seats and makes his way toward a Russian ship that has
somehow drifted up the street in front of the library. He
and two friends, Brian (Arjay Smith) and J.D. (Austin Nichols),
fight off wolves, the cold, and an oncoming vortex to gather
penicillin and food, which they drag back to the library in
spite of J.D.’s wounds.
Then, in a blatant link between father
and son, Sam and his father, Jack, escape the vortex into
the door of their shelters at the same time, closing the doors
behind them with an almost simultaneous slam. Jack has found
warmth with fires in a Wendy’s restaurant; Sam in a library
reading room. Jack explains, as he tramps back out into the
cold, “I made my son a promise. I’m going to keep it,” and
the storm dissipates over North America,
just in time for Jack and Jason to find the library and the
heated inner room where Sam and a few stragglers remain. “Who
is that?” Laura asks. And Sam tells them, “My father. You
found us.” “Of course I did,” Jack replies, and a helicopter
saves them and other New
York survivors waving their arms wildly on the roofs of high
rises. The film ends with images of the Earth from a space
station — “I’ve never seen the air so clear,” one of the astronauts
And the eco-drama ends, with father
and son reunited (and possibly husband and wife). The eco-disaster
looks like most disaster films in every way other than the
way the image of the hero is constructed. In The Day After
Tomorrow, the hero is a true eco-hero, attempting to
save the world from environmental disaster, but his most heroic
act is localized and less than self-sacrificial. Jack makes
his heroic journey not to save the world — as we might expect
an eco-hero and a climatologist to do — but to save his son.
And both Lucy and Sam act heroically for similar reasons —
to save the individuals they love, not the world, the nation,
or even the community.
In Children of Men,
Theo transports Kee to a haven at sea to save
her child and, ultimately, the world. But Theo chooses to
act because his ex-wife, Julian Taylor (Julianne Moore
), reminds him of the loving family life they
shared when his own son lived. In Children of Men,
both mother (Julian) and father (Theo) die during the undertaking,
but our last glimpse of life in the movie shows us Kee and
her baby floating in a boat while a ship in the distance comes
closer to save her. The focus is local rather than global
in this well-shot film, with long-takes emphasizing the individualized
perspective of the hero and his acts.
None of these heroes act like pioneers
attempting to conquer an opponent, even if that opponent is
the environment or an ecological disaster. They don’t fight
against the disaster but against the forces that caused it.
And they fight most intensely not for all those affected by
the disaster — as do most eco-heroes — but only for sons,
friends, and a helpless child. The new eco-hero is not a tragic
pioneer, who sacrifices him or herself for a species. Nor
is this hero a comic hero, who bumbles and succeeds only communally.
This hero acts alone, but only at a local level, not seeking
control of a landscape or species but seeking to save new
and renewed relationships. This local view corresponds to
the eco-critical approach we take with other environmental
themes represented in films from 1896 to the present. Representatives
of what David Ingram calls film vert, with blatantly environmental
messages, are only a small sample of films with possible ecological
In On the Edge: Ecology
and Popular Film
we look at narrative films organized around a variety of themes
but all driven by either intentional or unintentional environmental
messages as products of a complex cultural context that includes
ecology. Popular narrative movies respond to the culture in
which they are embedded — they also contribute to that same
culture, even in relation to the environment. To reveal representations
of environmentalist issues sometimes obscured by spectacle,
filmic technology, and conflicting messages, we read a selection
of films in relation to a variety of what we call “eco-critical”
readings. Our selection is limited and opens up opportunities
for further readings of multimedia, including television and
advertising. Here, however, as a way to demonstrate the possible
scope of eco-critical film studies, we focus our readings
on popular films that correspond with the following wide-ranging
environmental themes: the spectacular, environmental politics,
eco-terrorism, reconstructing underground space, ecology and
home, tragic eco-heroes, comic eco-heroes, urban street-racing
culture, film ecology, and evolutionary narratives, themes
we see as not only far-reaching but ongoing.
Our eco-critical lens responds to analyses
of eco-criticism Lawrence Buell outlines in his The Future of Environmental
Criticism. This approach aligns most closely with what
Buell defines as second-wave inquiry in eco-criticism:
the exegesis of environmental
subtexts through historical and critical analyses that employ
ready-to-hand analytical tools of the trade together with
less familiar ones eclectically derived from other disciplinary
bailiwicks and … the identification or reinterpretation of
such thematic configurations as pastoral, eco-apocalypticism,
and environmental racism. (130)
This project examines representations
of nature in mainstream film, broadens definitions of nature
writing to include film, and reads a selection of films embracing
a variety of themes. Our work is far from exhaustive. The
films we have chosen primarily illustrate the broad range
of themes available for such a reading. Our eco-critical approach
reads movies in relation to themes, but it also examines each
film’s context in a localized and aesthetic way.
Most eco-critics valorize an essential
view of nature and the natural world, a view that excludes
a situated post-modern view of nature. “Postmodern Natures,”
views of nature that suggest its representation is relative,
are often seen as problematic. In Reinventing Nature?,
for example, the majority of the articles suggest that we
should fear the consequences of viewing nature through a postmodern
lens. Gary Lease ’s introduction asserts that “Postmodern answers,
to date, have ignored certain actors and obscured certain
questions” (vii). Donald Worster’s “Nature and the Disorder of History,” argues
that postmodern historians are excessively relativistic and
that they distort reality. N. Katherine Hayles’ “Searching
for Common Ground” insists that the “deconstructionist paradigm,
if accepted broadly, would…destroy environmentalism, since
the environment is just a social construction” (viii). And
Stephen R. Kellert’s “Concepts of Nature East and West” asserts
that “The deconstructionist notion that all cultural perspectives
of nature possess equal values is both biologically misguided
and socially dangerous” (103).
Eco-critics suggest that immersing
perceptions of nature in their historical context would “distort
reality.” In fact, any form of relativism — viewing nature
relative to history, culture, or individual perceptions —
is seen as problematic by many eco-critics. For these eco-critics,
the consequences of viewing nature and the natural through
a postmodern lens become frightening because such a perspective
paralyzes the viewer, eradicating any possibility of socially
or environmentally conscious activism. These eco-critics,
then, take an ahistorical view of nature.
Eco-critics like Patrick Murphy
and Dana Phillips argue that relative views of nature and its
representations need not silence nature. By empowering nature
at the local, culturally and historically situated, level
its essential value can be valorized. Dana Phillips describes
a movement from modernist dualistic thought to a postmodern
world of representation (205, 6). Patrick Murphy contends
in a 1999 PMLA Forum that in a postmodern eco-criticism,
“Environments … are seen instead as a fundamental feature
of the ideological horizons of literary works” (1099). Dana
Phillips’ view of postmodernism, unlike that espoused in either
the Western Literary Association discussion or the Reinventing
Nature? anthology, does not lead to a lack of agency
or inability to take an activist stance toward the environment.
Instead, Phillips concludes in his “Is Nature Necessary?”
that postmodern thought offers a way to “green our society”
from a local level. Our approach looks to both Buell
and Phillips for a way to reveal environmental
themes and aesthetics obscured by the technology presenting
A brief reading of a Warner Brothers
short, Goofy Gophers and the Lumber Jerks
(1955), demonstrates how we might apply such
a localized postmodern approach to less blatantly ecological
media. This seven-minute cartoon lacks the obvious environmental
melodrama found in The Day After Tomorrow
or An Inconvenient Truth. Yet it gains resonance as an eco-cartoon
when it and its production are historicized and culturally
situated. Lumber Jerks may stem from an attitude
in 1950s America that Norman M. Klein calls “Consumer Cubism” (210), “an obsession
with the efficient, angular plan.” The faster a consumer could
gain access to goods, the better. Klein asserts that “individualism
and democracy were being redefined in terms of consumer desire.
The homogeneous surface, open and ‘free,’ came to stand in
for America’s imperium” (210).
These attitudes were reflected in both narrative and aesthetics
of some cartoons after 1954.
Lumber Jerks first focuses on saving one tree in a forest.
Two cheerful gophers, Mac and Tosh, scurry toward their home,
but when they go up into the hollow of their tree, they find
it has been cut down and carried away. The two gophers take
steps to retrieve their tree — what they call their property
— tracking it to a river and then picking it out of the hundreds
of logs floating on the water. They climb on their tree and
row away but cannot fight the current and nearly go over a
waterfall. Once they escape, one gopher exclaims, “I’m bushed,”
and the two fall asleep, waking up only after entering a lumber
mill and living through a saw blade cutting their tree trunk
After seeing the devastation around them, the
gophers state the obvious about the repercussions of consumerism.
One of the gophers explains, “It looks like they are bent
on the destruction of our forests,” and the scene shifts to
the mill’s workings. One “shot” shows trees ground into sawdust
being made into artificial fireplace logs. Another shows an
entire tree being “sharpened” to produce one toothpick. Then
the gophers discover what had happened to their own tree:
“They’re going to make furniture out of our tree,” states
one of the gophers.
But the idea of ownership of consumer
goods extends to the gophers and their tree home. They wish
to reclaim their property, their own possession, so the other
gopher exclaims, “That is definitely our property. We must
think of a way to repossess it.” The gophers siphon the gas
out of the furniture truck and, when it breaks down, “steal”
their tree’s furniture from the truck. They build a tree house
with the furniture, adding branches for good measure and topping
the tree off with a television set. The cartoon ends with
one of the gophers telling the other, “Isn’t our home much
better than it was before …. [we have] Television… and just
think how much better it will be with electricity!” Because
the gophers view their tree home as a possession not unlike
the furniture produced from its wood, they seem pleased with
their “repossession.” But the enviro-toon leaves viewers feeling
ambivalent about the price of progress.
Lumber Jerks combines a critique of consumerism with a
statement about its source — natural wilderness — but it also
endorses interdependence between humans and the natural world
(and between progress and conservation), at least to the extent
that furniture built from a tree trunk can return to the forest
as the Goofy Gophers’ home. With its overt focus on consumerism,
however, the ‘toon goes further. It leaves viewers questioning
the Goofy Gophers’ conclusion: “Isn’t our house much better
than it was before?”
As Klein suggests in his discussion of Tex Avery’s
The House of Tomorrow (1949), The Car of Tomorrow
(1951), and Farm of Tomorrow (1954), consumers may
become “victimized by the very machines that promise an easier,
more extravagant life” (211). After all, the consumer goods
that make up the trunk of one tree were built from the trees
of an entire forest. Lumber Jerks, especially, reflects an increasing ambivalence
toward technology and post-World War II progress in an increasingly
more complex (and anxiety-ridden) nuclear age. Here the Goofy
Gophers successfully negotiate between the wonders of modernism
and its impact on both natural and human worlds. But it’s
a negotiation that’s impossible in the world outside cartoons.
Still, Klein’s argument that “cartoons [are] ever the barometer
of changes in entertainment” (211) may also include changes
in mainstream American culture. Unlike cartoons that maintain
the nature/culture binary or those that seek to reconcile
it through the intervention of a controller, classic shorts
that critique our treatment of the natural world respond explicitly
to changes in the American cultural context and illustrate
an ambivalence toward Modernism and its ramifications.
The period during and after WWII is
commonly associated with a drive for technological advancement,
from constructing needed military equipment during the war
to building highways and freeways and entering the space race
after it ended (See Rothman, Saving the Planet and
Shabecoff, Fierce Green Fire). There were noteworthy
inclinations toward conservation prior to WWII, like Teddy
Roosevelt’s creation of the National Park System and Franklin
Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal programs. And noteworthy exceptions
after WWII like William Vogt’s best-selling conservation book
Road to Survival and Fairfield Osborn’s Our Plundered
Planet, which came out in 1948. Aldo Leopold ’s Sand County Almanac was published
a year later and proved to be one of the most influential
eco-works ever written. Leopold’s work had a positive influence
on both Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas and Secretary
of the Interior Bruce Babbitt. Douglas began protesting what he saw as exploitation
of nature as early as 1954, when he successfully opposed the
building of a proposed highway that would
have destroyed the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal and its towpath.
Babbitt, who served under President Clinton, is still a tireless
advocate of environmental issues, but he traces the origin
of his stances to Leopold’s Sand County Almanac in
the preface to the 2000 edition he wrote in memory of Leopold
and in honor of Leopold’s work for the conservation movement.
After World War II, Americans gained
enough economic stability to not only purchase cars in record
numbers but also use them for traveling across the United
States on cross-country highways like Routes 40 and 66. According
to Rothman, Americans increasingly vacationed in national
parks and forests after 1945. And, “as more of them vacationed,
exemplified by record numbers of visitors at Grand Canyon
National Park each month after August 1945, they had an impact
on the natural world that soon caused them to take notice”
(85-6). Rothman asserts that “what Americans found in many
of their national parks and forests shocked them: decrepit
and outdated campgrounds, garbage piled high, and a lack of
facilities and staff to manage them” (86). Americans took
to the road, towing trailers behind them, so they could experience
some of the nature they had left behind when they moved to
the cities and concrete suburbs surrounding them.
Vacationing Americans noticed the devastation
in national parks and forests, but the Wilderness Act that
served to protect and preserve them wasn’t passed until 1964,
almost 20 years after the end of the war. Alexander Wilson
argues that Americans in the late 1940s and
1950s saw “the open road [as] a metaphor for progress in the
U.S. and for the cultural taming of the American Wilderness”
(34). Wilson even suggests that “What we saw out the window
of a speeding car… was the future itself” (34). These views
of nature through the window of a car — or even the window
of a camper in a national park — skewed Americans’ vision
of the natural world. Such confusion between seeking pristine
nature and embracing progress at any cost complicated ideological
views of the environment and environmentalism. In “Conservation
Esthetic [sic],” a section of his Sand County Almanac,
Aldo Leopold describes late 1940s’ views of nature and
wildlife recreation as a destructive search for meaning in
an altered “natural” world:
The automobile … has
made scarce in the hinterlands something once abundant on
the back forty. But that something must nevertheless be found.
Like ions shot from the sun, the week-enders radiate from
every town, generating heat and friction as they go.…Advertisements
on rock and rill confide to all and sundry the whereabouts
of new retreats, landscapes, hunting-grounds, fishing-lakes
just beyond those recently overrun. Bureaus build roads into
new hinterlands, then buy more hinterlands to absorb the exodus
accelerated by the roads. A gadget industry pads the bumps
against nature-in-the-raw…. And now, to cap the pyramid of
banalities, the trailer. To him who seeks in the woods and
mountains only those things obtainable from travel or golf,
the present situation is tolerable. But to him who seeks something
more, recreation has become a self-destructive process of
seeking but never quite finding, a major frustration of mechanized
The Lumber Jerks illustrates the consequences of rampant consumerism
that serves as a sign of progress — devastation of the natural
world. Instead of looking at nature from the skewed perspective
of a speeding car, this cartoon shows us what’s wrong with
what Wilson calls “the cultural taming of the American
Wilderness” (34) and provides real reasons for embracing Aldo
Leopold ’s conservation esthetic [sic]. Post-World
War II optimism faded quickly because of similar binaries
— this time between those that strengthened the Cold War and
fostered a skepticism toward “progress” that diminished the
power of individuals. These changing attitudes in the United
States had an impact on cartoons after WWII, as well as on
the cartoon industry itself. In 1948, according to Klein
, the studio system changed. Studios were no
longer allowed to maintain vertical monopolies, so their theater
chains were sold out, and film (and cartoon) distribution
was transferred to “independent jobbers” (206).
By 1953, Jack Warner “ordered the animation
units [temporarily] to close down, to make way for 3D movies”
(Klein 206). Television became a new medium, and
fewer movie screens were available for audiences. All of these
factors led to what Klein calls a “stripped-down” version
of cartoons. Klein argues that a “mixture of ebullience and
paranoia can be seen very clearly in fifties cartoons, in
the stories and the graphics” (207). According to Klein, this
mixture “is particularly evident in cartoons about consumer
A rich reading of Lumber Jerks
must take into account all of these elements,
structural and aesthetic, historical, ideological, and technological.
The environmentalist message in the cartoon, however, gains
strength for us because it is not explicitly environmentalist.
In fact, a straight reading of the cartoon might suggest that
modernism has improved the lives of these goofy gophers.
This multi-faceted approach also gains
strength when juxtaposed with the film industry itself. The
technology necessary to produce films — even those with an
environmental bent — conflicts with the environmental messages
sometimes on display. Such a contradiction exists even in
film productions of blatantly environmentalist films like
An Inconvenient Truth or Happy Feet. Instead of erasing
or obscuring the technology behind all the films discussed
here, this text rests on the belief that, like humanity itself,
the film industry both uses and critiques technologies that
potentially abuse nature. In a sense, this text offers a space
to explore what happens when nature serves as the center of
an analysis of a medium (film) that has traditionally been
aligned with nature’s opposite, technology. Such contradictions
hold true in relation to many of the binaries critiqued in
film — sexuality, race, gender, class, among others. Instead
of denying this conflict, we suggest it calls for further
This book examines films foregrounding
multiple environmental themes. Chapter 1, “Ecology
and Spectacle in Oil Wells of Baku: Close View: The First Eco-Disaster Film?,” explores how
the spectacular fires on display in oil well fire films from
as early as 1896 sometimes obscure the environmental disaster
on the screen. Chapter 2, “Environmental Politics: Pare Lorentz’s
The River and the Tennessee Valley Authority,” offers a reading of the environmental politics
surrounding New Deal Tennessee Valley Authority dam projects
along the Tennessee River as they are valorized in The
River (1936) and Wild River (1960). Chapter 3, “Reconstructing Underground
Urban Space in Dark Days,” explores the complex structure of a narrative
documentary built on a new idea of progress, this time in
New York City’s Amtrak tunnels where homeless people have
established and constructed homes. Chapter 4, “Ecology, Place,
and Home in Dark City: Is It Our Nature to Live in the Dark?” provides
a space in which to explore a multi-genre film that seeks
to determine the best ecology for human and nonhuman life.
Chapter 5, “Environmental Nostalgia
and The Tragic Eco-Hero: The Case of Soylent
Green and the 1970s Eco-Disaster Film,” highlights the tragic eco-hero in a
blatantly environmental film whose rhetoric rests on nostalgia.
Chapter 6, “The Comic Eco-Hero: Spoofing Eco-Disaster
in Eight Legged Freaks,” explores how images of the eco-hero have
changed as our cultural context has evolved to allow us to
laugh at the results of toxic waste dumping meant to both
satirize and spoof serious science fiction films like Them!
the book from
Chapter 7, “Eco-Terrorism in
Film: Pale Rider and the Revenge Cycle,” discusses the effectiveness
of eco-terrorist techniques as a way to combat corporate hydraulic
mining practices. Chapter 8, “Car Culture and the Transformation
of the American Landscape in The Fast and the Furious,”
highlights transformations of already de-naturalized urban
landscapes in contemporary inner-city car-racing films. Chapter
9, “Film Ecology : Simulated Construction and Destruction in
Hooper,” looks at both filmic representations of
nature and environmental effects of film production itself.
And Chapter 10, “Apocalypse as a “Return to Normality” in
28 Days Later and 28 Weeks Later,” expands on notions
of the eco-hero and examines two different evolutionary narratives,
one tragic and the other comic. We conclude our book with
a reading of An Inconvenient Truth as a film not unlike Soylent Green, since its rhetoric is also driven by differing
versions of nostalgia. Together, these chapters offer multiple
thematic readings of potentially environmental films.
“28 Days Later Production Notes.” 28 Days Later. Dir.
Danny Boyle. Perf. Cillian Murphy , Naomie, Harris,
Christopher Eccleston, Megan Burns,
and Brendan Gleeson. Fox Searchlight Pictures, 2002.
, Edward. The Monkey Wrench
Gang. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2000.
Statement re: Green Initiative Announcement.” 25 Feb 2007.
31 March 2007
< www.oscars.org/press/pressreleases/2007/07.02.25.html> .
, Mahadev. Humor
and Laughter: An Anthropological Approach. Ithaca:
Cornell UP, 1985.
Armstrong, Derek. “Eight
Legged Freaks Review.” All Movie Guide. 2002. 7 Jan.
Babbitt , Bruce. “Preface.”
Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There.
London: Oxford UP, 1949. 2000.
Badalov , Rahman. “Oil, Revolution, and Cinema.” Azerbaijan International. 5.3 (Autumn 1997)
Bailey , Ronald. “Earth Day, Then
and Now.” Reason (May 2000).
11 May 2004 <http://www.reason.com/news/show/27702.html>.
---. “An Inconvenient Truth : Gore as Climate Exaggerator.” Reason
(June 2006). 5 Aug. 2006
---. “Inconvenient Uncertainties
and Moral Ambiguities.” Reason.
(May 2006). 5 Aug. 2006
---. “We’re All Global Warmers Now: Reconciling
temperature trends that are all over the place.” Reason.
(April 2005). 14 Aug. 2006
Barry, John. Rising Tide: The
Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America.
New York: Simon
and Schuster, 1997.
Baxter, Ellen. Private Lives/Public Spaces:
Homeless Adults on the Streets of New York City. New York: Community Service Society of New York, Institute for Social Welfare Research, 1981.
, Jean. America. Trans. Chris
Turner. New York: Verso, 1998.
and Simulations.” Selected Writings.
Ed. Mark Poster. New York: Stanford UP, 1998. 166-184.
Bennett, Michael. “Manufacturing
the Ghetto: Anti-urbanism and the Spatialization
of Race.” The Nature of Cities: Eco-criticism
and Urban Environments. Eds. Michael Bennett
and David W. Teague.
Tucson: U of Arizona
P, 1999. 169-188.
Bennett, Michael and David
The Nature of Cities: Eco-criticism and
Urban Environments. Tucson: U of Arizona
, Peter. Easy Riders and Raging Bulls: How
the Rock ‘N’ Roll Generation Saved
York: Simon and Schuster, 1998.
Black, Ralph W. “What We Talk about When We
Talk About Eco-criticism .” 29 March 2004.
Bordwell, David and Thompson, Kristin. Film Art: An Introduction, Second Edition
New York: Knopf,
Bourget, Jean-Loup. “Social Implications in
the Hollywood Genres.” Film
Genre Reader II. Ed. Barry
Keith Grant . Austin:
U of Texas P,
Bradshaw, Peter. “The Day After
Tomorrow .” The Guardian. 28
Browne , Nick. “The ‘Big Bang’: The Spectacular
Explosion in Contemporary Hollywood
Film.” 28 October 2006 <www.cinema.ucla.edu/strobe/bigbang/bang1.html>.
Brussat, Frederic and Mary Ann. “Silent Running
: Movie Review.” Spirituality and Health:
Spiritual Practices for Human Being. 1980-2003. 1 December
“The Day After Tomorrow : Movie Review.” Spirituality and Health:
Spiritual Practices for Human Being. 1970-2006. 5 May
Buell , Lawrence. The Future of Environmental
Criticism: Environmental Crisis and Literary Imagination.
Blackwell Publishing, 2005.
Burne, David. Get a Grip on Ecology
The Ivy Press, 1999.
Buffum, Edward G. Six Months in the Gold Mines:
From the Journals of Three Years’ Residence in Upper and
Lower California. 1847-8-9. Philadelphia: Lea and Blanchard, 1850.
, Rachel. Silent Spring.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1962.
Donald. “Watershed: Elia Kazan’s
Wild River .” Film Comment.
32.6 (1996): 10-17.
Cleese, John. “Synopsis of Humour
and Psychoanalysis conference” London: Freud Museum. 5 Nov
Charles J. and Turco, Richard
P. “Film and Television Industry.”
Southern California Environmental Report Card, 2006.
Crockett , Harry. “What is Eco-criticism?”
Crouch , Craig E. “Hydraulic Mining in California.”
Hydraulic Mining — CPRR Photographic History
10 Aug. 2003 <http://cprr.org/Museum/Hydraulic_Mining/>.
“The Development of the Oil and Gas Industry in Azerbaijan.”
AzerMSA. 21 June 2004 <www.members.tripod.com/azmsa/oil.html>.
Detwyler, Thomas. “Selling the Car Culture Through Advertising.” University of Wisconsin.
February 7, 2001. 12 May 2005
---. “U. S. Culture and the
Environment .” University of Wisconsin. January 4, 2001. 12 May 2005
Jared. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.
New York: Viking, 2005.
Diones, Bruce. “28 Weeks Later .”
The New Yorker. 28 May
Ebert , Roger. “28 Days Later .” 27 June 2003. 3 June 2007.
---. “Dark City
.” Roger Ebert
’s Movie Yearbook
2001: Every Single New Ebert Review. Kansas City: Andrews McMeel
Publishing, 2001: 127-128.
---. The Day After Tomorrow . 28 May 2004
Paul. The Population Bomb. New York: Ballantine
Erickson, Hal. “Tulsa
Review.” All Movie Guide. 31 Mar 2004 <www.allmovie.com>
, James J. The Car Culture.
Cambridge. Cambridge UP, 1975.
Frayling, Christopher. “Eastwood
on Eastwood.” Eds. Kapsis,
Robert E. and Coblentz, Kathie.
Clint Eastwood: Interviews. Jackson : UP of Mississippi, 1999: 130-136.
Freud, Sigmund. Jokes
and their Relation to the Unconscious. New York: W. W. Norton, 1963.
, Cheryll. “What
is Eco-criticism ?” 24 March 2004.
Phillip. “Car Culture and the Landscape of Subtraction.” Monocular Texts.
December 2003. 12 May 2005
Amy. “Interview: Dark Days : The Ultimate Underground Film.” indieWire 3
, Al. Earth in the Balance. Ecology
and the Human Spirit. New York: Plume Reprint, 1993.
, Nancy L. TVA and Black Americans: Planning
for the Status Quo. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 1989.
Hastings, Michael. “2 Fast 2 Furious
Review.” 25 April 2005
< http://movies.msn.com/movies/movie.aspx?m=537055> .
Haver, Ronald. David O. Selznick’s Hollywood.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1980.
Hayles, N. Katherine. “Searching
for Common Ground.” Abstract. Reinventing Nature?
Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction. Eds. Michael E.
Soule and Gary Lease
. Washington, D. C.:
Island Press, 1995: viii.
, Karl G. Ethnographic Film. Austin:
U of Texas P, 1976.
“Hellfighters Production Notes.” Hellfighters. Dir. Andrew V. McLaglen. Perf. John
Wayne. Universal DVD, 1968.
Hladik, Tamara. “The Omega Man
.” Classic Sci-Fi. 1998. 14 May 2004.
---. “Soylent Green
.” Classic Sci-Fi.’97.
10 May 2004
“Fires of Kuwait Review.” Washington
Post. December 04, 1992.
Hubbard , Preston J. Origins of the TVA: The Muscle
Shoals Controversy, 1920-1932. New York: W. W. Norton
and Company, 1961.
, David. Green Screen: Environmentalism
and Hollywood Cinema. Exeter: U of Exeter P, 2000.
, Abraham V. W. From Constantinople
to the Home of Omar Khayyam. Piscataway, N.J.:
Gorgias Press, 2002 (1911).
Notes.” 2 May 2007
Johnson, Rebecca. “Car Culture: How American
Got Hooked by Little Bugs and MonsterTrucks
— and Everything in Between — and Why it’s Time to Park Our Automobile
Obsession.” walkinginfo.org. December 2003. 12 May
, Stuart M. “Comedy and Social Change.” American Film Genres, Second Edition. Chicago: Nelson-Hall,
Kazimzada, Aydin. “Celebrating 100 Years in Film, Not 80.” Azerbaijan
International. 5.3(1997) 24
, Stephen. Disaster Movies: The Cinema of
Catastrophe. London: Wallflower, 2001.
Kellert, Stephen R. “Concepts of Nature East and West.”
Reinventing Nature? Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction.
Eds. Michael Soule and Gary Lease
. Washington, D.C.:
Island Press, 1995. 103-122.
Kiester, Edwin Jr. “Turning Water to Gold: Confronted
with a Hill Full of Gold, Miners Removed the Hill and the
Gold — and Left a Mess Behind. Smithsonian.
August 1999: 18.
King , Geoff. “Spectacular
Independence Day, and Frontier Mythology in Contemporary
Hollywood.” Journal of American
Culture. (1999): 25-39.
, Norman M. Seven Minutes: The Life and
Death of the American Animated Cartoon. London: Verso,
Kolodny, Annette. The Lay of the Land: Metaphor
as Experience and History in American Life and Letters.
Chapel Hill: U of North Carolina P, 1975.
Korth, Joanne. “NASCAR history awaits.”
St. Petersburg Times Sports Online.
July 4, 2004. 25 Dec. 2003
Lease , Gary. “Introduction:
Nature Under Fire.” Soule
, Michael and Lease, Gary.
Eds. Reinventing Nature?
Responses to Postmodern Deconstruction.
Washington, D. C.: Island Press, 1995. 3-15.
Legler , Gretchen T. “Ecofeminist
Literary Criticism.” Ecofeminism:
Women, Culture, Nature. Ed. Karen J. Warren. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1997: 227-238.
, Aldo. Sand County Almanac
Almanac and Sketches Here and
There. London: Oxford UP, 1949. 2000.
Lichtneker, David. “Recovered Classic: Silent Running
.” The Z Review.co.uk.
1 Dec. 2003
Ken. “Racer X.” Vibe Magazine.
McGilligan, Patrick. Clint: The Life and Legend.
New York: St. Martins Press, 1999.
McCann, Michael. “Pyrotechnics, Fire and Explosion Effects.”
Chicago Artists Resource Page 2 May 2007
John P. “Baku Oil and Transcaucasian
Pipelines, 1883-1891: A Study in Tsarist Economic Policy.”
Slavic Review, 43.4 (Winter 1984): 604-623.
of Dark Days .”
Dark Days. Dir. Marc Singer. Wide Angle Pictures and
Palm Pictures, 2000.
Richard. I am Legend. New York: Orb Books, 1997.
, Joseph W. The
Comedy of Survival: Literary Ecology and
the Play Ethic. Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1997.
---. “The Comic Mode.”
The Eco-criticism Reader:
Landmarks in Literary Ecology . Ed. Cheryll
Glotfelty and Harold Fromm.
Athens:U of Georgia P, 1996. 155-69.
, John R. The Economic Impact of
TVA. Knoxville: U of Tennessee P,
, Margeret. Fragile Dwellings. New York: Aperture, 2000.
The Tunnel. New Haven: Yale UP, 1995.
Mumford, The Highway
and the City. London: Secker and Warburg, 1964.
Murphy , Patrick, et al. “Forum on Literatures of
the Environment .” PMLA. 114.4
Murray, Rebecca. “Ellory Elkayem Interview — Eight
Legged Freaks Movie Premier.” What
You Need to Know About Arts and Entertainment>Dramatic/Romantic
Movies. 2004. 5 April 2004
Nelson, Gaylord. “Earth Day ’70: What it Meant.” U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 11 May
“How the First Earth Day Came About.” Envirolink:
The Online Environmental Community. 11 May 2004
O’Hehir, Andrew. “28 Days Later
27 June 2003. 3 June 2007.
---. “The Fast and the Furious : Fast Cars! Hot Chicks! Pointless Thrills!”
Salon.com. 22 June 2001. 4 Dec. 2003.
Fairfield. Our Plundered Planet. Boston: Little Brown, 1948.
Pavlides, Dan. “Hellfighters Review.” 31 Mar 2004 www.allmovie.com
Pearleberg, Anna. “Lurching Towards Eden: Post-Apocalyptic
Paradise in Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later . The Image of the Road
in Literature, Media, and Society. Ed. Will Wright
and Steven Kaplan. Pueblo, Co: Society for the Interdisciplinary
Study of Social Imagery, Colorado State University — Pueblo,
Phillips , Dana. “Is Nature Necessary?” The Ecocriticsim
Reader: Landmarks in Literary Ecology . Ed. Cheryll Glotfelty
and Harold Fromm.
Athens: U of Georgia P, 1996: 204-222.
Pinheiro , Ethel and Cristiane
Rose Duarte. “Loves and Circuses at Largo da
Carioca, Brazil: The Urban Diversity Focused on People-Environment
Matters Journal 6.1 (2004). 19 Nov. 2006
Price , Jenny. “Thirteen Ways of Seeing Nature in
L.A.” The Believer. April
2006. 13 Dec
2005 <http://www.believermag.com/issues/200604/?read=article_price> .
Proyas , Alex. “Commentary.”
Dark City . Dir. Alex Proyas. Perf. Rufus Sewell, Kiefer Sutherland, Jennifer Connelly, William
Hurt. New Line Productions. DVD.
“The Real ‘Inconvenient Truth.’”
JunkScience.com. 26 April 2006. 22 July 2006
Remschardt, Ralf. “Comedy and Comic
Performance in Theory and Practice.” Spring
2003. 20 April 2004
, Andrew. The Chicago Gangster Theory of
Life: Nature’s Debt to Society. London: Verso, 1994.
Michael Bennett ). “The Social Claim on Urban Ecology
Nature of Cities: Eco-criticism in
Urban Environments. Ed. Michael Bennett
and David W. Teague.
Tucson: U of Arizona P, 1999: 15-30.
Rothman , Hal K. Saving the Planet: The American Response to the Environment
in the Twentieth
Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000.
Sarris , Andrew. “You Ain’t
Heard Nothin’ Yet”: The American
Talking Film: History and Memory, 1927-1949. Oxford:
Oxford UP, 1998.
Scanlan , Sean. “Introduction: Nostalgia .” Iowa Journal of Cultural
Studies. 5.1 (2005): 20 Nov. 2006
, Richard. Clint Eastwood: A Biography.
New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996.
A.O. “Film Review; Spared by a Virus But Not by Mankind.”
New York Times. 27June 2003. 3 June 2007.
, Sarah. “Region of Eternal Fire: Petroleum
Industry in Caspian Sea Region.” History Today 5.8
, Phillip. Fierce Green Fire: The American Environmental Movement.
New York: Hill and Wang, 1993.
, Richard. Gunfighter Nation: The Myth of
the Frontier in Twentieth Century America. Norman: U
of Oklahoma P, 1998.
Regeneration Through Violence:
The Mythology of the American Frontier, 1600-1860. Norman:
U of Oklahoma P, 2000.
Sontag , Susan. “The Imagination
of Disaster.” Against Criticism.
New York: Picador, 1966. 209-225.
Soule , Michael and Lease , Gary. Eds. Reinventing
Nature? Responses to Postmodern
Deconstruction. Washington, D. C.: Island Press,
“Southern California Report Card 2006:
UCLA Institute of the Environment Urges More‘Green’
Practices by Film and Television Industry.” 18 Mar 2007
Green Review.” Home Theater.
2 May 2005
, Kathleen. “Nostalgia
— A Polemic.” Cultural
Anthropology. 3.3 (1998): 227-241.
“Study: Television, Filmmaking
Industries Are Big Polluters.” nbc4.tv 14 November
18 Mar 2007
Tashiro, Charles S. “The Twilight Zone of Contemporary
Hollywood Production.” Cinema Journal. 41.3 (Spring 2002): 27-37.
, Bertrand. “Commentary.”
Lumiere Brothers: First
Films. “Oil Wells of Baku: Close View.” Kino DVD, 1896.
Tepper, Sheri. The Gate to Women’s Country.
New York: Doubleday, 1988.
Tang. “The Mustang was It.” St.
Louis Dispatch. January 7, 2004: F1.
Urry , John. “Automobility,
Car Culture and Weightless Travel: A discussion Paper.”
Department of Sociology, Lancaster
University. January 1999. 2 Dec. 2003.
William. Road to Survival. New York: William Sloane
, Alexander. Culture of
Nature. Toronto: Between the Lines, 1992.
Wolfe, Tom. “The Last American Hero is Junior
Johnson, Yes!” Esquire.
March 1965. Reprinted in Esquire: 40th Anniversary
Celebration (October 1973): 211-22, 436, 438, 442, and
Worster , Donald. “Nature and the
Disorder of History.” Reinventing Nature? Responses
to Postmodern Deconstruction. Ed. Michael Soule and Gary Lease
. Washington, D. C.:
Island Press, 1995. 65-86.
Yacowar , Maurice. “The Bug in the Rug: Notes on the
Disaster Genre.” The Genre Film.
Ed. B.K. Grant . Baltimore: Scarecrow
Press, 1977. 90-107.