What a Way to
Life at the End of Empire
A DryDipstick Movie Review
Documentary - 123-minute DVD
by Mick Winter
A two-hour poem of great power and beauty. The story of a personal
journey; yet a journey that is also deeply universal. As humanity rushes
towards a nexus of catastrophe, is there a world beyond denial and despair?
The film suggests the possibility.
"What a Way to Go" is a 123-minute ode to life as it could be, as it
should be, as it has been in a distant past, and in some way, as it
is now, as rejective of reality as that may be. We, who should be stewards
of the earth, have instead tragically become its dominators, bending
the rest of life to our will. But there remains the hope that within
us are the seeds of wiser people and a better world.
I have seen a number of films on Peak Oil, climate change and the other
ills of our society and planet (yes, even Nobel Laureate Al Gore's Oscar-winning
"An Inconvenient Truth"), but none has moved me so much as this one.
While it does include some facts and figures, it primarily deals with
the human psyche—the emotional and spiritual pain experienced
by those living in, or victims of, industrially civilized countries.
It builds a deep emotional and spiritual connection between the viewer
and the planet on which we live, and the fellow creatures of all forms
with whom we share life on this planet. It becomes clear that the suffering
we experience as humans is shared by the entire biosphere. Because of
the beliefs which have entrapped us, we are alienated not only from
nature, but from each other and, indeed, from our true internal nature.
What we have done to our planet we have also done to ourselves.
I have never seen a film quite like this before. The many brilliantly
chosen film snippets—usually archival—are mesmerizing. Somehow
using film clips from decades past creates a feeling of distance, connection
and immediacy, all at the same time. I can't explain it, but I found
their use extremely effective. Despite the often staccato use of the
film clips, and the frequent interspersal of talking heads, the film
flows smoothly, carrying us along in its grip as it goes. This is largely
due to the narrator (writer/director Tim Bennett), whose words are interesting,
compelling, and powerful, delivered with a soothing calmness and more
than a touch of sad
weariness, and because of the superb editing of the film, which according
to the credits was done by Bennett and producer Sally Erickson. It is
also a tribute to the film's very effective original music score.
"What a Way to Go" is a two-hour poem of great power and beauty. It
is the story of a personal journey, yet a journey that is also deeply
universal. A journey that encompasses ignorance, awareness, fear, depression,
denial, grief and despair. But when denial can no longer be maintained,
and grief and despair can no longer be endured, there remain two options.
Once is self-destruction; the other action. The narrator chooses action.
The topic of this film is human life, and our survival. "What a Way
to Go" addresses many of the major threats to our life as a society
which are, as we all know, coming together to form a "perfect storm"—a
nexus of catastrophe that could sweep many, if not all of us, into extinction.
Peak Oil quickly becomes a simple hors d'oeuvre as the film moves on
to climate change, mass extinction, population overshoot, famine, disease,
toxins and other threats to civilization.
Interestingly, the film identifies agriculture as the point where trouble
first began for the human race. Growing food instead of gathering food
became humanity's first truly disruptive technology. The logical outcome
of being able to—and needing to—stay in one place was cities,
which by their very nature cannot be sustainable. They have no choice
but to be dependent on resources from outside their area.
Agriculture appears to have been the point of division, the time when
humans began to change their surroundings rather than simply live within
them. It was the beginning of our separation from—or at least
our perceived separation from—nature. More than 10,000
years later, it can best be expressed by the words of that wise observer
of society and human nature, Woody Allen, who has said: "I am at two
I referred above to "talking heads". A better term would be "talking
hearts" or even "talking souls". Although scientists are interviewed,
the majority of the commentators in the film are writers, artists, academics
and others who demonstrate clearly that our society should give equal
time to the creative observers of our society. Some of the better known
are Thomas Berry, Jerry Mander, Daniel Quinn, William Catton, Derrick
Jensen, Chellis Glendinning, Richard Heinberg (in his role as a generalist
and humanist as well as a Peak Oil expert), Richard Manning and Ran
Prieur. They and many others offer insightful observations on our society,
our plight and our possibilities. They speak with concern, caring and
The film could easily be seen as a major bummer. The reality of our
planetary situation is grim, and the movie pulls no punches. Depression
and despair are expressed, discussed and absolutely not dismissed. Indeed
the narrator cautions us toward the end of the film that there will
be no happy closing chapter.
But the filmmakers are not without hope. Were they, there would have
been no film. They leave us with the recognition that even if we are
facing societal death, we can face that death with honor, knowing that
we have tried everything we could to right the wrongs that we ourselves
have created. If we lose, let that loss be noble. And maybe, just maybe,
we might tap into that strength that comes from recognizing that all
life on this earth is not just connected, but one. It would be a glorious
finish, and even more glorious were we to come out successfully on the
"Be bold and mighty forces will come to your aid."
- Basil King [from the film]
My congratulations and thanks to Tim Bennett, Sally Erickson, and to
all involved in this film. I intend to buy a number of copies of this
film to give to friends. I highly recommend you buy a least one yourself.
Mick Winter (www.DryDipstick.com)
is the author of Peak Oil Prep: Prepare for Peak Oil, Climate Change
and Economic Collapse (www.peakoilprep.com)
Copyright © 2007 Mick Winter. This article may be republished
anywhere by anyone as long as it is shown in full (including this notice)
and there is no charge to the reader.