What the Fast & Furious movies reveal about climate change
Just as it’s impossible to watch 1950s sci-fi without thinking of the Cold War and Red Scare, it’s impossible to see a Rock Hudson – Doris Day flick in the same way audiences did before Hudson came out. In the same way, future connoisseurs of early 21st-century cinema will mine our present cultural output for any nuggets that will tell them what we thought and how we felt about the beginning of the climate disasters.
Mark Bould’s newest book, “The Anthropocene Unconscious: Climate Catastrophe Culture,” examines several recent films and novels in this light now.
Bould’s exegesis finds anxiety over climate change bubbling up in both East and West, in culture high and pop, and in a variety of mediums. He analyzes the themes foundin the 2016 film Arrival, Karl Ove Knausgård’s “My Struggle” novels, and the Swamp Man comics.
In some of my favorite pages, Bould examines the plot of each Sharknado movie
“Ludicrous, crudely rendered images of climate disruption and destabilisation, they gesture towards the weirdness and excessiveness of our changing weather,” he writes. “They are big dumb reminders that we share the world with other species.”
Bould finds the endless failures to avert global catastrophe in the Tom Cruise – Emily Blunt sci-fi action flick Edge of Tomorrow as an analog to the real world’s response to our existential threat.
“Every route off the beach ends in disaster. There is no way out. Nor is there one for us. The necessary series of moves is impossibly complex, and we have already blown it.”
Bould describes a litany of half-hearted attempts to avoid the catastrophes we now face. “When the US, the UK, the USSR and Japan derailed concrete international emissions targets at the Noordwijk conference in November 1989, we died on the beach… When a common response to the too-little-too-late proposal that we act to keep atmospheric CO2 below 450 parts per million is to argue that 550ppm is more politically plausible, we die on the beach.”
Bould also writes about this sense of inescapable doom in the final and best chapter of the book: The Dialectics of Dominic Toretto:
“In almost every Fast and Furious film, characters talk about walking away from the life, but they never manage to get out or settle down. They are trapped in a juggernaut over which they have no direct control.”
Bould makes one stunning finding:
“Despite all the hours of screen time spent among cars, in auto shops, on city streets and open roads, we only actually see fossil fuels three times.”
This distraction is intentional, Bould argues. He sums the films up as “on the one hand, a fast, furious, thanatropic race to destruction, and on the other, a yearning for fullness.”
No matter what happens, the characters embrace their humanity. The street racing crew sees themselves as a family – a chosen, working-class family that reminds Bould of those aboard the Pequod in “Moby Dick.”
Like a masked ball in the middle of a plague, the franchise is a gratuitous celebration of petroculture. Everyone who made the film and everyone who watches it knows the oil can’t last. But can’t they take one last ride?
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