Director: Marten Persiel (Germany, Netherlands). Year of Release: 2022
The 2050s. Some hipster kids are playing with their hand operated computers. They are 2 young men and one young women. If you’re nostalgic, you’ll be happy to know that Mansplaining is still a Thing. The computers seem to be the main difference between the future and the present. Well, that and the fact that the environment is fucked. Well and truly fucked. Grass is now red and no-one is willing to leave the big city. On the plus side, there are loads of wind turbines everywhere.
One day, the hipsters wander into a shop which is selling Old Stuff. It’s run by an Asian man who has disengaged from modern society. Flicking through some vinyl, they find a copy of Pet Sounds. On the inner sleeve there’s a photo of something that they don’t recognise. What’s that? they ask the old Asian man. “Oh, it’s a giraffe”, he says. They’re none the wiser. Giraffes are long extinct.
Encouraged to look for their hidden past, the blokes – Fini and Ben – go on a road trip. The woman, Cherry, is left behind as usual. The boys come across a commune of scientists living on the edge of town. The scientists show them videos of all the species which have become extinct in the previous 30 years. Cue talking head ecologists from the 2020s (plus Wim fucking Wenders) pretending that they’re talking head ecologists in the 2050s explaining exactly what went wrong.
While all this is going on, we hear a patronising voiceover explaining that Fini, Ben and Cherry were part of the last generation which could actually save the environment. Disconnected hands turn the pages of an old Bible-type book with poetically meaningless chapter titles written in hippie bollocks. We enter a feel-good universe, but there is no sense of the film engaging with the audience. We’re there to be told what’s going wrong with the world and why we’re to blame.
I have two main problems with Everything Must Change, one political, one artistic. Let’s start with the artistic. The scenario that the film expect us to buy in on is so implausible, or at least so full of holes that we are expected to fill for ourselves, that it’s hard to treat it’s arguments seriously. None of it makes sense. This is fine if you’re showing a science fiction film which has its own rules. But if you use different rules, you can’t pretend that you’re revealing hidden truths about our society.
The film is set in 2054, that is in 32 years time. It’s just not that no-one knows what giraffes are but the cities are either empty of anyone who remembers giraffes. The one people who we see who over around 20 are the old embittered shop keeper and the scientists from the commune. Is this is a Logan’s Run style dystopia or is the city full of over-40s engaged in a conspiracy of science who refuse to mention their past memories?
But it’s not just about personal recollections. We are insistently told that this is a society which is dependent on highly sophisticated computer technology. But does not a single one of these computers carry a single record of animals 30 years previously? (apparently they do, as the scientists outside town have plenty of David Attenborough films). And does no-one have any photos, or even an old inner sleeve of Pet Sounds? Who destroyed all these records?
What type of repressive society is this? Is no-one rising up against this? Apparently not, as when Fini, Ben and Cherry decide to hack a popular media programme with a video of what they discover, the number of viewers sinks from millions to 0. Not a single person. Given as the programme is beamed from the walls of public buildings, this presumably means that everyone in the centre of town fled inside to avoid exposure.
Is this remotely likely? If someone interrupted my prime time viewing with a video showing a crazy conspiracy theory, I’d stay around a while just to see who is doing this and why. Particularly if they were showing photos of beautiful animals which have died out. Our protagonists have been moved by the pictures of these animals to try and initiate fundamental change. And no-one else gives a fuck? What sort of élitist shit is this?
This is far from the only problem with the film’s politics. Yes there is a lot of righteous anger about the apocalyptic dangers of Climate Change, something which cannot be shouted loud enough. But who can stop this happening? The film fudges the answer to this question by blaming “people”. One of the talking heads wistfully says that we can’t go back to a hunter-gatherer society, implying that it would be great if we could get rid of all social progress.
This is not to say that the film has had no effect. Since I saw the bloody footage of hunters tracking down and killing a giraffe I haven’t killed a single giraffe. I also haven’t drilled for oil or created a transport policy which excludes cheap and environmentally friendly transport for those who need to travel. You see, by laying the blame on “people”, the film almost entirely avoids any talk of power balance or agency, and is completely silent on economic systems like capitalism.
Also several of the “experts” make Malthusian demands for population control. One of them does talk about providing women with more control of their bodies. It is probably not a coincidence as his is one of the few non-white faces in this section, as the demand to reduce population is often linked to blaming “uncivilised” people in the Global South for breeding too much, occasionally extending to effectively advocating genocide. If the problem is “people”, this is a logical step.
By the way, does director Marten Persiel expect to convince one single person with this preachy film? It is so self-important, so certain of itself, that it is unable to conceptualize people, well smart people at least, having a different view. But if everything is so obvious, then why does he need to make this film? It may be on the right side – at least for part of the time – but it’s call for people to “do something” is on such an abstract level, that it doesn’t take us at all forward.