The book Biomovie: Ecocriticism and Popular Film introduces the reader to the ecocritical approach of popular, mostly 21th century Hollywood films. The eponymous term ecocriticism refers to the environmentally conscious, biocentric trend of cultural criticism that provides the analytical framework for the interpretation of the movies mentioned in the book, which I hope may incite the reader/viewer to help in making the world more environmentally friendly and more sustainable place after coming out of the cinema complex or switching off the TV. One would think that such an inclination may be most likely to develop when a film focuses on the destruction of nature which happens not too frequently. And it may not even be the most effective means of making a lasting impression. In many films the focus seems to be elsewhere, although certain allusions, references and rhetorical methods —analysed in detail later in the book — are able to reach to our environmental sensibilities or succeed in intensifying them. The ecocritical approach aims to explore these methods, but it also helps to understand how our relationship to nature has come to such a sad stage. If the visual or narrative statements in a film are put in the context of the history of science, the history of ideas or that of ecology, the Western traditions regarding the view of nature that led to the present crisis will be immediately outlined much more clearly. Also, the interactions of these traditions with other aspects of our culture (for example the history of colonialization or the history of the situation of women) will also be revealed. And while all these may facilitate a deeper self-examination and a greater critical distance from historical and contemporary practices of exploitation of both human and non-human others, it may also give way to meanings that are able to make the filmic works under scrutiny more thought-provoking and worthier of critical appraisal. In what follows I am going to quote short paragraphs from different chapters along with colourful illustrations that were planned to be part of the book but in the end could not be included in the print version.
Shots from the Introduction::
“The domination model of nature regards the primacy of humanity as axiomatic in relation to nature, and the overpowering and controlling of nature is seen as the ultimate value of civilization. Until the last century, this model was dominating the cultural imagination of the Western world until the last century, and although its prestige has been radically severed by the emergence of the Romantic cult of nature, it still has a great weight in the Western political and industrial sector (and gaining more weight in the Third World). As Ingram shows, the domination model is represented by Spielberg’s Jaws (1975) in many ways (…) The anthropocentric idea behind the domination model, according to which man’s ability to self-reflection and the faculty of reasoning places him in a superior position as compared with others, has recently been questioned:
Is there historical evidence that our ability to reason has been at least helpful to the Earth’s inhabitants or Earth herself? What we call our greatest achievements — such as architecture, harnessing nuclear energy, e-communication — have been phenomenal, but they are not evidence that we are dignified vis-á-vis other animals. Human technology has lowered infant mortality, increased longevity, conquered pandemic disease and simultaneously bettered our ability to use more natural resources per person. While this may be great for humans in the short term, by and large human reason appears to have contributed mostly in a negative way to ecosystem integrity. (Kyle Ash)
“From the point of view of the evolution of the eco-paradigm, the comparison of the Kong: Scull Island from 2016 and the previous King Kong films is specifically revelatory. (…) In Skull Island, instead of terrorizing the islanders, Kong protects them from something ’even worse’, a walrus-like dinosaur of prehistoric origin according to the story. On the basis of the narrative, however, (Western) civilization is also well-included in this idea of the worst. The film spells out more than once that the furious, helicopter-smashing, murderous Kong is only protecting his home from the intruders who have no qualms about throwing bombs, devastating the land and killing masses of harmless animals with the purpose of mapping the territory. In this story the bestial and sadistic side of (male) sexuality is embodied not by Kong but the US soldiers and pseudoscientists who are trying to compensate their frustration caused by the (still denied) Vietnam defeat with the ostentatious bombings, and their efforts to conquest the jungle-covered island, allegorically alluding to the Vietnam war. Kong and the ’yellow’ aborigines of the Skull Island represent a new fantasy of sustainable living similar to the life-style of the blue-skinned humanoids of Avatar, which is rather surprising in the light of the earlier adaptations, but highly predictable considering the recent headway of the ’ecological paradigm’.” (p. 19-20)
“While in the simulated world we understand ourselves and others as apparently distinct entities, the images of the program reveal that these are alphanumeric signs moving in waves: for the audience there is no radical difference between the signs that stand for the ’woman’ and the signs standing for the rest of the ’Matrix’. The figure in fact is not so radically separated from the ’environment’ as we imagine it within the Matrix. What is more, we see the configuration of the signs as a woman only there, although her figure obtains the definitive marks required for projection from the program. (…) The woman’s representation through the programming language is very similar to what Harold Fromm describes the image of the individual inseparable from environment ’as we know today’. What is more, Fromm uses the latest digital film-making techniques to capture this image, comparing it to the ’time-lapse video’ for a better understanding:
The ‘environment,’ as we now apprehend it, runs right through us in endless waves, and if we were to watch ourselves via some ideal microscopic time-lapse video, we would see water, air, food, microbes, toxins entering our bodies as we shed, excrete, and exhale our processed materials back out. (Fromm cited by Stacy Alaimo)
Virtual reality may be just an illusion, but at times it may represent the biological reality more vividly and more faithfully than everyday life experience itself.” (p. 42)