“A very large Sperm Whale, will yield the bulk of one hundred barrels of oil … Oh, man! admire and model thyself after the whale! Do thou, too, live in this world without being of it.” —Captain Ahab, Moby Dick
And there, in an epic about hunting other mammals for a resource, lies the paradox of our rape-and-pillage of home. We kill and extract and process because we can—acting so superior to nature even while relying on it—yet keep inventing and following systems of thought and being which both set us above and rationalize the dirty, guilty tasks of slaughtering, mining, or drilling for fossil fuels.
David Lavalleé’s To the Ends of the Earth reminds us that Canada is a hot spot for the more desperate, high risk resource extraction in which global capitalism is now indulging.
This deeply persuasive, matter-of-fact documentary’s smartest move may be its first, framing its argument about the present in power-filled terms—extraction power. Our economy and its analysts pay scant attention to energy even as, Fernanda Rossi’s script notes, the energy industry’s looking farther and deeper afield for the fuels which underlie everything from the bedsheets we tuck into at night to the coffee we sip to wake up come morning. With that frame, here’s that rare film which simultaneously narrows and expands our viewer focus, forcing us to reconsider all of life through the lens of energy consumption.
Narrator Emma Thompson’s gentle tone makes the drill-bit points here all the more pressing and incisive. After grounding future forecasts in the past (the whale oil industry’s collapse, a 1950s effort—scotched by Diefenbaker—to nuclear-liquefy Alberta’s oilsands, the launch and failure of shale oil in Reagan’s America), then covering Canadian eco-flashpoints (Nunavut’s Clyde River, Fort McMurray, northern B.C.), the film tackles capitalism’s perpetual growth myth—far tougher to slay than Ahab’s white whale. (One less-will-have-to-be-more solution, clunkily termed “degrowth,” remains fuzzy here.) In interviews and footage, Lavalleé’s doc implicitly links academics and activists, two forces that could ally even more closely.
But ultimately, it’s the impassioned people’s protest—the drive and desire to put bodies on the frontlines of earth-ravaging battle zones, like we saw in recently in the Dakotas—which may determine whether or not we humans will be able to truly admire ourselves ever again.