2019, mid-Atlantic (literally). A girl with a Wednesday Addams haircut is at the edge of the boat looking homesick and a bit miserable. Cut to: recordings of different world leaders explaining how Climate Change is a hoax, fake news, all lies, and that CO2 is actually good for the environment. As we hear their weasel words, we see images of burning forests and flooded villages.
This film shows a remarkable year in the life of Greta Thunberg. Think you were pronouncing her name right? You were nowhere near. Director Nathan Grossman had the luck to be in at the beginning, which has caused some critics to question its authenticity. How come he was there to film her very first protest, they ask, apparently unaware of how close-knit the middle class liberal community is.
On this first protest, a 15-year old Greta sat alone outside parliament carrying her now famous home-made Skolstrejk för Klimatet placard. Only a few people stopped to talk, mainly to tell her off for playing truant. Greta demonstrated every day until election day with the demand that politicians take climate change seriously. The result? The Green vote went down and the far right surged.
Greta persisted, receiving a great boost when Arnold Schwarzenegger approvingly reposted a video of hers to his 4½ million Twitter followers. Soon, she was being invited to speak at climate conferences, and for official meetings with Emmanuel Macron, the British parliament and the United Nations. More importantly, she inspired hundreds of thousands to demonstrate worldwide.
Greta shows a remarkable sense of self-awareness for a teenager, particularly one diagnosed with Aspergers (in a neat interview, when she’s asked about suffering from Aspergers, she says that she doesn’t suffer from Aspergers, she just has it). She complains that the politicians are using her for photo opportunities while not remotely changing their policies.
Two great scenes illustrate this. In the first, she is followed as a speaker in an EU meeting by Jean-Claude Juncker. Juncker doesn’t address any of her points and waffles on about flushing toilets simultaneously. Half way through his speech, she removes her translation headphones. She’s had enough. In the second scene Greta addresses the English parliament. She opens the speech by asking if her English is good enough. You start to sigh at this cutesy way of trying to endear herself before she follows up with: “because it feels like none of you is listening”.
The joke is all the better because her English is spectacular, as is her retention and understanding of facts. Her ever-present father explains that she has a photographic memory and is able to quickly read and explain the many books that she reads. By the way, after she spent the year skipping school, she still received one of the best results of her year.
So is Greta some sort of wonder woman? Absolutely not. At various stages, we are reminded that she is a little girl with more than her fair share of social problems. The girl who has been embraced by politicians worldwide was not popular at school, nor was she invited to any of her schoolmates’ parties (I hesitate to call them schoolfriends – apart from her parents, her dogs and her horse, it is unclear whether she has any friends).
How much is this because of her Aspergers? Her enemies make much of her condition – we see a long sequence of grown adults denouncing her as being a mentally ill schoolgirl. Yet while Aspergers seems to have given Greta a single-mindedness, what she describes as the ability to “see through all the static”, it would be too simple to depict her as some sort of crazed genius.
Perhaps most movingly, the film shows her on the verge of breakdown. As her fame grows, the girl who does not even like to eat in public starts to lose her sense of self. In one of her many conference speeches she breaks into tears. Then on the boat trip to address the UN (no flying for Greta), she loses it, saying that she wants to go back to a real life without responsibility. The Aspergers can be a curse as well as a blessing.
For some reasons, I am Greta has not gone down well with some critics. Leaving aside the reviews which say that she’s in the pay of George Soros, there is a continual complaint. What’s the solution, they ask. Why doesn’t the film tell me how I can reduce my Carbon footprint? Now I’d love the film to end with a passionate call from Greta to dismantle the capitalist system which generates Global Warming, but that simply never happened. And anyone who’s been listening to what she’s saying would know that it’s going to take more than a few journalists turning the leccy off at night.
Don’t criticize this film for not being what you wanted it to be. Appreciate the warm depiction of a troubled but brilliant person. Then go out of the cinema and decide which demands you want to make of the politicians who ignore and patronise her.