directed by Nathan Grossman
by Bill Chambers A deceptively stock rise-to-influence documentary, I Am Greta has haunted me like nothing that begins with "Hulu Presents" reasonably should. The film is, of course, about teen activist Greta Thunberg, who went on a school strike in her native Stockholm to bring awareness to climate change and became a global phenomenon. It begins at the beginning, in 2018, as Thunberg takes a seat outside the Swedish parliament building with a simple sign that reads "Skolstrejk för klimatet." One older woman stops to scold her, more or less, for risking her future by skipping school. Thunberg counters that at the rate we're destroying the planet, she has no future to risk. The woman walks away in a huff: kids, right? This fearless interaction not only establishes a key theme of I Am Greta--Thunberg's ability to make Boomer heads explode, Scanners-style--but is also something of a miracle, given that Thunberg, who has Asperger's, once went three years without speaking to another living soul except her parents. What triggered this mutism was her horrified reaction to an educational video about the impact of climate change on polar bears; what snapped her out of it was her realization that she could change her ways (going vegetarian, unplugging power cords, etc.)--and potentially those of others, by drawing as much attention to our environmental crisis, the looming Sixth Extinction, as possible.
Thunberg becomes a sensation at home and abroad. A group of Belgian girls her age take up the cause because of her, and Thunberg is asked to speak at various conferences and meet various heads of state across Europe. (She travels with her father, a vigilant monitor of Greta's mental and emotional health.) Throughout, Thunberg is clear-eyed, even wise beyond her years, about the subtext of these rarefied encounters, noting, for instance, that every time she steps foot in a palace, the people in charge seem like they're role-playing. When she's invited to address the European Commission at its president's behest, she quickly susses out that her presence was intended to exaggerate the significance of their half-hearted measures (synchronized toilet-flushing!) for slowing climate change. The film is about her perseverance in warning us of what lies ahead, but despite the odd sentimental flourish, like a montage set to a treacly ballad about never giving up, this is not an uplifting, feel-good doc conveying the triumph of the spirit, not the least because it's coming out on the heels of a pandemic, wildfires that have turned the sky red, and record hurricanes. Then there's the abuse heaped on Thunberg since her delightfully pissed-off appearance at the UN ("...You all come to us young people for hope. How dare you!"), which constitutes the movie's climax. This will eventually earn her the coveted title of TIME's Person of the Year and our genocidal Commander-in-Chief will then Photoshop his face over hers on the magazine's cover as if that's funny and not psychotically envious, just another example of him fucking children. Anyway, the image of Greta herself, utterly miserable on turbulent waters headed for the United States, has a long half-life beyond the film.
There's a montage halfway through I Am Greta of dinosaurs taking potshots at her on television, from world leaders like Putin and Bolsonaro to Alex Jones wannabe Andrew Bolt, who works himself into a foam calling her a "selfish, badly-educated, virtue-signalling little turd." They're obviously afraid of this kid with the Heidi pigtails because she threatens the insulation that sucking up to the barons of environmentally unsustainable industries has provided them. As pathetic as that is, their targeted harassment--something that might have been considered a little gauche once upon a time, before Trump mocked a reporter's disability without recrimination--has helped cement Thunberg as an icon, which is precisely what they want: to turn her into another mute avatar for libtards and liberal tears. (Their other gambit is to ask if she's so smart, why isn't she coming to us with solutions, as if Thunberg is a renowned scientist or presenting herself as such.) I Am Greta's grasp exceeds its reach, its thought-provoking subject transcending its slick surface; there's so much food for thought latent in the material. It made me wonder if you can become the face of a cause without becoming the cause, à la Hanoi Jane. It made me want to beat a few powerful men senseless with a sack full of cell phones. And it made me want to live more conscientiously, if nothing else to honour this lovely human. It's a hard world for little things. Programme: Special Events