This is my review of this film, as posted on my site:
This film needs to be seen by everyone on the planet, at least twice.
It is that important.
While there are many documentaries out there that focus on single topics (Peak Oil, Global Warming, etc), What a Way to Go, Life at the End of Empire, a brilliant and incredibly insightful documentary by Tim Bennett and Sally Erickson, accomplishes the impossible by taking a macrocosmic snapshot of our current condition, its germination in the dim recesses of history…and our likely destination, and distilling it down into a 2-hour tone poem-esque presentation that speaks of the probable horrors of our future in words that are lyrical, poetic, and completely and utterly reasonable.
This is possibly the most comprehensive description of the times we are living in that I have ever seen, and it delivers its ominous observations with the even and mournful tone of Tim Bennett's voice, the voice of a vanishing breed in this county (perhaps the world): the voice of the Thinking Everyman. Tim Bennett has a vocal presence that is poignant by its very nature. If you were to take Roger & Me era Michael Moore, and remove every last shred of Moore's sarcasm, smugness, self-satisfaction, and self-righteous hubris, leaving just the mild voice of the earnest middle class, middle-aged, Middle American trying to make sense of a world gone mad, you would have something of an approximation. It is a calm midwestern voice, and a voice that tugs at your heart in its earnestness…perhaps because it is the voice that so many of us wish we could speak with in a world where only harsh voices gain notice.
There are other voices here, too.
There are the voices of Daniel Quinn, Derrick Jensen, Richard Heinberg, and a whole host of other underground cultural luminaries and regular people, artists, writers and academics…and the interviews can be just as moving and insightful as the narrative.
The DVD is divided into four sections: Waking on the Train, The Train and the Tracks, The Locomotive Power, and Walkabout. I'll summarize the parts briefly, as you should probably stop reading my blathering and just buy the thing.
Part 1 (Waking on the Train) details the dawning awareness that so many (but yet so few) of us have that the world is somehow not as it should be, that life was not meant to be a non-stop orgy of mindless consumption, self-indulgence and waste. For that unhappy few of us born without that part of the brain that accounts for the massive amount of denial everyone else seems to possess in abundance, there is a sense of anxiety we feel in the world…and one that we may have felt as far back as early childhood. (I know I did.) Reaching a point in one's development where one starts to take active notice of what is actually going on in the world can tend to bring the realization that there is just and ample cause to feel such anxiety…you wake up on the train to find that it is barreling ahead at full speed…now just where is that train going?
Part 2 (The Train and the Tracks), tackles the Big Four issues that are at the head of a vast host of dilemmas facing humanity: Peak Oil, Climate Change, Mass Extinction, and the Population Overshoot of our lovely species (at the expense of practically every other species besides rats and cockroaches). It does so deftly and convincingly. Those already familiar with these issues will find this a strong and concise summary, while those who are not will have their eyes opened. Wide.
Part 3 (The Locomotive Power), goes where so few other documentaries of such topics do…into the realms of Anthropology and History. It is here where the questions of "how did we get here" are dealt with. This, in a great many ways, is where the true genius of the film lies: it takes us back 10,000 or so years to the advent of agricultural wealth division, where the roots of our current sickness grew deep into the fertile soil of a planet that seemed boundless. And coming back into the present, the psychology of our current mass mind, the mind of abuse and addiction, escapism and denial, is laid bare.
Part 4 (Walkabout), avoids the easy answer of the techno-fix or the "if we only just do this, that, or the other thing" type of tripe that usually caps off similar works, and instead urges us to get off that speeding train in our own ways, individually and collectively…knowing full well that that train is going to crash and there is really little that can be done to change that inevitability. In it's own way though, there is hope presented here…just not the hope that we can continue to live in any of the ways we have grown accustomed to. But for the few who are brave enough to step off of the train and find their own way through the coming darkness to a far simpler world on the other side, that is the best kind of hope there is.
All good art presents us with a reflection of ourselves on some level, whether by direct commentary or by indirect abstraction. What a Way to Go offers both a reflective indictment of our collective folly for the uninitiated, and gives that small attentive minority who are looking at the same facts and evidence and reaching the same conclusions the reassurance that we are not crazy. It's the "masses" that are actually crazy…believing in nonsensical and unsustainable "stories" that are as addictive as they are ultimately unfulfilling and soul-killing. Bennett comes across as an eminently sane individual, both on film and in person, definitely not a wild-eyed loon preaching the gospel of the End Times. This gives his calm and reasonable voice the authority needed to convey the urgency of our situation without descending into shrill alarmism.
So you should listen to him. And you should get a hold of this DVD and share it with the people you love and make whatever plans you can.
Time is running out.