“The 11th Hour” and Generation Z

Reportedly, Leonardo DiCaprio’s documentary film, “The 11th Hour,” has yet to take the box office by storm. That is no great surprise since, despite its cliffhanger title, it lacks the kind of dramatic tension that pulls people into theaters. Even Al Gore’s slide show had more grab, because Gore himself is such a story – the leader cheated of his victory, come back as a prophet of the age.

But “The 11th Hour” is only one slice of a complete story. It is a parade of talking heads set in a swirling background of Koyaanisqatsi-like images of planetary beauty and destruction. Co-director Nadia Conners calls it “an experience.”

The images evoke various moods: horror, sublime reverence, fear, love and longing. The speakers voice words of wisdom and profound insight into the science and psychology behind our predicament. Bioneers founder Kenny Ausubel defines the quest at the beginning: It is to understand how the two most complex systems on earth – nature and the human mind – can coexist.

If “The 11th Hour” is not a complete story, it is deliberate, because the intent is to involve and motivate the viewer as an actor in the ultimate story – a story to be written by the current generation.

Throughout the film, DiCaprio as narrator returns to the idea that his generation will be the “pivotal generation” that “will heal industrial civilization.”

Joseph Campbell, in his explorations of the power of story and myth, often referred to “Star Wars” as the archetypal myth for our times. If that is so, then “The 11th Hour” is that piece of the story where Luke Skywalker encounters Obi-Wan Kenobi and learns from him how to fight the Empire.

If Luke Skywalker represents DiCaprio and his generation, then the more than 70 scientists, historians, and thinkers interviewed in “The 11th Hour,” ranging from physicist Stephen Hawking to Inuit activist Sheila Watt-Cloutier, are a collective embodiment of the wise Jedi swordmaster.

Collectively, the words of these thinkers and activists paint the big picture of our predicament, illuminating the physical, mental and emotional destruction we experience as the planet suffers from our industrial civilization and our overwhelming numbers. We also find illustrations of how elusive the big picture is for so many of us. Wangari Mathaai, the Kenyan tree planter, says: “I keep telling people: ‘let us not destroy forested mountains. Rains will become irregular. Crops will fail, and you will die of starvation.’ The problem is people don’t make these linkages.”

Seeing the big picture is the definition of wisdom, and the film delivers buckets of it. Whether “The 11th Hour” also delivers the motivation needed to complete the story is another question.

Skywalker already had his motivation when he came to Kenobi. “The 11th Hour” offers hope and realistic solutions for those motivated to take action, but the challenge of providing motivation is perhaps the least understood aspect of the story of our survival on this planet.

The film ends with Leonardo’s exhortation to his generation to take up the task of healing industrial civilization, as the camera speeds over wild landscapes seething with boiling clouds and frothing waves, and the music builds in a slamming crescendo to one final bam! that seems meant to propel you out of your seat and into action.

To me, one of the most motivational snippets from the film is where eco-entrepreneur Paul Hawken talks about the more than one million environmental and humanitarian groups working in the world today, followed by this statement from designer Bruce Mau: “It is almost as if we had distributed an ambition without ever having written it down so people all over the world knew what they ought to be working on knowing they only had one pixel in a mosaic of the image of a sustainable future.”

Written by Timothy Bennett
An artist and filmmaker who has lived in North Carolina for eighteen years. Born and raised in rural Michigan, he began his inquiry into environmental and cultural issues in the late 80s. His talent for "big-picture thinking," along with his ability to see through the taboos, denials, and orthodoxies of our culture.