Movie Review Friday: No Impact Man
Escape to the movies with one of our Movie Review Friday selections. Each week we review a film with an environmental theme that’s currently in theaters or available on DVD. Seen a good eco-flick lately? Send us a short review and look for it in the next Movie Review Friday.No Impact Man (2009)
Opens today in select cities
Colin Beavan, a.k.a. "No Impact Man," and the star of the eponymous documentary, has become a bit of a lightning rod in the green community. Both the New York Times and the New Yorker seem to have decided that Beavan's quest to reduce his environmental footprint to zero was a publicity stunt, and therefore unworthy of serious consideration. At the same time, both publications recognize that Thoreau did much the same thing in writing Walden.
No Impact Man is the story of an upper-middle-class New York family and the effect this yearlong footprint-shrinking experiment has on them. It’s full of delightful moments courtesy of the couple's two-year-old, Isabella, who gleefully helps wash laundry in the bathtub and delights at finding lightning bugs in the community garden. Beavan's wife sheds her self-described "high-fructose-corn-syrup lifestyle" for one in which she explores the city by bicycle, visits a farm that supplies much of their food, and gives away their large TV in favor of nightly games by candlelight. She gamely agrees to stop eating out (which requires her to learn to cook), gives up her quad-espressos, and forgoes toilet paper.
Though there’s no footage of Beavan’s decision to resume using normal laundry facilities after realizing that doing it by hand just takes too long (and no evidence of similar “lapses”), the documentary really succeeds as a "home movie" about the family's experiment. The strong narrative challenges us to contemplate whether we could even attempt to live without a fridge.
No Impact Man is an entertaining, and certainly thought-provoking, account of one family taking green living to an extreme. Those into greening their own lives will find inspiration, though they could also view the film as a relationship drama, or as an exploration of NYC’s outdoors.
It seems that Beavan’s experiment was more than a publicity stunt. Was it scientific? No. A call to action? Not really. Is he earnest? Hard to say: Critics have pointed to his lack of previous environmentalism. But if the only people willing to look critically at their consumption are experienced environmental activists, then what hope do we have?