Review by Justin Goodman
When the anti-GMO fad traced its gentle symbol (a non-specific butterfly landing on a piece of grass fittingly shaped like the useless medieval fauchard spear) on food labels, it was proof enough of the Medea Hypothesis. In 1970, James Lovelock and Lynn Margulis would outline what would become a hypothesis as controversial as the use of GMOs. The Earth is self-regulating or, as Sylvie Rokab’s new documentary Love Thy Nature puts it, “life creates the conditions conducive to life.” Lovelock, decades after The Quest for Gaia was published, would argue that the criticisms stemmed from a lack of understanding about his methods (The Gaia Hypothesis, as it is known, is founded on mathematical principals). Those who would be influenced by the hour of stock footage and generically “inspiring” concertos that Love Thy Nature presents, though, are those who—guided by a “spiritual connection” to an unrecognizably Pagan Gaia, and nobly misinformed in their pursuit to destroy GMOs—show that the 2009 anti-Gaia hypothesis proposed by Peter Ward more accurately reflects the truth. The Medea Hypothesis proposes that Earth, as a superorganism, is suicidal.
Love Thy Nature is premised on the existence of a “Biological Revolution,” described as (with the overlay of a many-speckled map) the largest revolution in the history of the planet. What does this revolution consist of? Other than quotes from mystics (Rumi, Paracelsus, Alan Watts) and naturalists (Rachel Carson, John Muir), it primarily consists of New Age “integrative medicine,” “Mind-Body Healers,” and strikingly confused readings of scientific studies; one interviewee claims that a study in Los Angeles showed increased tree canopy decreased obesity in children. The closest study I found was from 2010, titled “Childhood Obesity and Proximity to Urban Parks and Recreational Resources,” and merely states the obvious: children closer to recreation centers play more. A documentary that tries to re-enchant a far removed industrialized world with Nature can be forgiven, however, for forgetting that Nature has no life-giving magic. We are willing to forgive Werner Herzog, who overtly bends truth to give us a higher truth, so why not now?
To say the truth is bent here, however, is to ignore how much of the truth is entirely skipped over. Liam Neeson—the same voice that’s permanently associated with threatening kidnappers—narrates Sapien, humanity’s budding consciousness to nature. Ironically, unlike Samantha from Her, Sapien’s authenticity seems robotic. While most agree with the need for nature in the industrialized world, it’s difficult to be convinced of the need by something so laughable as a manly lilt pretending to come to epiphany. This narrative loses sight of what should have been central to an overall meandering, sentimental story: the “conscious emulation of nature’s genius.” Biomimicry, whose founder, Jay Harmon, appears in Love Thy Nature, is fleetingly mentioned. By all accounts, it’s biotech that is the heart of the “Biological Revolution” though. With every minute of slow motion clips of people running in grass, smiling at artichokes, and being possessed of a dystopian happiness, it leaves no time for life-saving snakebots or body armor made from spider’s silk.
This is the nature of revolution. It is always occurring, just beneath the surface. But Love Thy Nature prefers to bask in the grandeur of Gaia, or Rokab’s faux-scientific rendering of it, which makes for a puffed-up hour of lecturing disguised as story and talking down. I would rather be on the receiving end of Liam Neeson’s threats than his insulting revelation about how important nature is (which, aside from radical movements like Futurism, there is no dispute over). It’s one-size fits all prescription is flattening, going so far as to say “because the environment heals, it is a social justice movement.” Although Water Wars are predicted by 2050 in poorer countries, that does not mean planting trees (their example from Los Angeles) is social justice; that data shows windows improve morale and efficiency in office spaces and hospitals is uncontested is not enough to mitigate how embarrassing Liam Neeson Ah-ing and Ooh-ing over the fact is.
“Developed nations, having long contributed disproportionately to carbon emissions, now expect developing nations to share the burden of reducing them,” Jonathan Franzen writes in the New Yorker. The reality of it is that those who will be watching the documentary will not have the face the consequences of developed countries development. Instead, Love Thy Nature will resonate with the bougie health seekers who aggressively pursued labeling GMOs. Anyone who truly wants to pursue the noble goal of this documentary, of anti-GMO warriors, is not attacking the vague, therefore simple, target of climate change (“[Climate Change…like Capitalism] defies individual resistance,” Franzen continues). Because that is what Love Thy Nature seems to want more than anything, to make others cognizant of the environment. Rather, to borrow Franzen’s words, “The mode of meaning of conservation in the Amazon is Franciscan: you’re helping something you love, something right in front of you, and you can see the results.” That is the true “Biological Revolution”: small science, small conservation, and a suicide.