‘I think that man is not going to change, and the sea going to be dead, because man is crazy’. – ‘The End of the Line’ (That’s not a photo of the ‘end’ – it’s actually a picture of Ira Levin, but that’ll make sense if you read on.)
(Re-posted from The Film Talk): The first time I had a tuna sandwich I was eleven years old. It was October 1986, and my mum had cast me in a staged reading of Ira Levin’s play ‘Critic’s Choice’, in which, if memory serves, I played the 12 year old son of an unpleasant theatre reviewer, who advises his dad on how to respond to a play written by his wife that he doesn’t like. I was terrified, having neither developed a sense of being comfortable on stage, nor having had more than an hour or two to peruse Mr Levin’s script. Well, he went on to write ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ and ‘The Stepford Wives’, and I went on to eat more tuna. I never really thought about where my food came from until the fair trade movement of the late 1990s convinced me to change coffee brands in a neat inverse colonisation move; and since then it seems that every five minutes there’s a new documentary about what’s wrong with the world’s supply-and-demand chains, and what to do about it. Thus far, Al Gore has made me switch off lights that I’m not using, Michael Moore has made me avoid certain banks, the Francis Brother’s ‘Black Gold’ has reinforced what I’d already become convinced of where coffee’s concerned. Now it’s Nemo’s turn.
What marks out ‘The End of the Line’ (just out on DVD and at I-Tunes) from other recent campaigning films is the fact that it has wedded astonishing visual imagery to an intelligent unfolding narrative. Images that present the sheer enormity of some fish are married to a narration (by Ted Danson, serious, eminently listenable) that tells us, among other things, that some sea creatures are so over-fished it’s the equivalent of ploughing a field seven times a year. There’s an overhead shot of a flotilla of boats that looks better than the CGI pre-battle sequence in ‘Troy’; there are knowing jabs at the ‘fashion-conscious diners’ of Nobu, whose spokesperson helpfully acknowledges his apparent belief that telling people the fish they’re eating is on the verge of extinction will preserve it, rather than simply not selling it; there are critical scientists who issue portents such as ‘It’s negotiating with biology; you can’t do that an expect the biology to survive.’
So far, so educational. And it’s as education that ‘The End of the Line’ most succeeds; as a work of cinema its contribution may be limited to the extraordinary visual imagery (and the fact that it’s only as long as it needs to be; there’s no padding here). The worry is that, after ‘An Inconvenient Truth’, people may either not be willing to sit through campaigning non-fiction films, or the climate crisis as presented in mainstream media – dominated, rightly, by Al Gore – has so overwhelmed the public consciousness that there is little room left to discuss or explore related issues such as the death of the sea. Yet I learned in watching ‘The End of the Line’ that it takes 5kg of other sealife to produce 1kg of farmed fish. The seafood industry as currently framed kills more fish than it produces for humans to eat. The system of regulation, as someone in the film says, simply does not work. But it was difficult to avoid the conclusion that, thus far, the delivery of educational/campaigning films has not been enough to address the concerns presented therein. These films scratch the surface of what needs to change; but, to my mind, they avoid the issue at the heart of why our culture reverts to the mean, puts up with the postponement of living the way we know we should, if we are to maintain even the possibility of life: that is our fear, collective and individual, of death. And in one of the almost too good to be true segues for which The Film Talk has more recently become unable to extricate ourselves from, that’s exactly what Jett and I will be talking about in Episode 113, on its way to you soon.