‘Anthropocene: The Human Epoch’ is a Breathtaking Exposure of Humanity’s Impact

3 Black Men sit amongst a plastic landfill. They are resting on piles of plastic bags surrounded by bottles. A dog looks down from one of the plastic mountains.
Mercury Films

“Humans now change the earth and its systems more than all natural processes combined.”

Very much the “cinematic meditation” it proclaims to be, Anthropocene is mostly spent silently absorbing the colossus of modern industry. While one can sympathise and laugh with factory employees, the shot gradually pans out to show the monstrous machines that engulf them, and the sheer scale of the emptiness they leave in their wake. We are ants, industrious and determined, chipping away at materials which formed over millions of years. 

Witnessing the extent of our hyper-efficient, capitalist mindset is chilling and though viewers will be familiar with the devastation of climate change. Seeing these satellite and aerial images of the Earth, much of what is seen here is unrecognisable. 

The camera flies over a lithium lake reminiscent of a dreamy watercolour palette, spinning through the world’s longest train tunnel, then floats through a striped subterranean mine, the unique visuals are truly sublime. The effect is a transfixing daze of geometric and vibrant images, punctuated by the ASMR voiceover of Alicia Vikander.

An orange digger stands out in amongst white stone, almost looks like marble. This is clearly a man-made construction site with ramps and railing carved out for access for machinery.
Mercury Films

One could easily be swept away by the beauty, but registering the almost inconceivable connotations of her carefully chosen statistics brings the otherworldly atmosphere back to Earth. We as a species are destroying natural resources at an alarming rate, all within the minuscule blip of our time here. What we see reconciles what we appreciate in modern civilisation, like the lithium for phones and cars or the marble so integral to our artistic history, with how the exponential consumption of these materials are drastically impacting our delicate planet. 

Like its title, each chapter relishes the deliciousness of new words, like terraforming and technofossils. Illustrating these science fiction terms and reiterating that we’re already in the future envisioned just decades ago, but the consequences threaten its longevity. Witnessing the trees and towns demolished to pave the way for this future, and the wasteland left in its wake shatters the illusion. 

This terrific documentary (in both senses of the word) is book-ended by the image of elephant tusks, rescued from ivory traders, paired up, piled high and mourned. The estimated street value comes to around $150 million, a price put on the cost of endangering the serene creatures. In a statement of solidarity, the tusks are burned in an symbolic inferno, preventing them from making it to the market. This is the sentiment that infuses everything else you see in Anthropocene, one that places the viewer within the duality of saviour’s triumph and poacher’s guilt. With that comes a sense of hope, if we have the power to have this impact, we have the capacity to organise and evolve. 

To be watched on the largest screen you can muster in quarantine, Anthropocene: The Human Epoch will be available to stream as part of #EdFilmFestAtHome on Curzon Home Cinema from the 24th June to the 5th July.   

by Fatima Sheriff

Fatima (she/her) is a biomedical sciences graduate and aspiring science communicator. Literary adaptations with beautiful soundtracks call to her, but she enjoys anything with an original concept, witty writing, diverse casting or even the briefest appearance of Dan Stevens. Her favourite films do fluctuate but her love for Paddington 2 is perennial. She can be found on Letterboxd @sherifff and on Twitter here.

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