No Impact Man (2 of 4)

           The documentary No Impact Man tells the story of Colin Beavan, a Manhattan writer who decides to live an entire year doing his best to have “no impact” on the environment. His rules: No toilet paper, incandescent bulbs, disposable razors, magazines, newspapers, television, planes, trains, automobiles, elevators, plastic bags, shopping for anything new, or creating any trash.

            His guiding thought a question, “What would it feel like to try not to hurt the environment?” Colin Beavan and his wife set out to slowly cut out every modern convenience from their lives for an entire year, but from the first appearance of his wife the plot thickens.

            His wife, Michelle, doesn’t want to do it. She likes the idea and hates the practice. She’s a Starbucks junkie whose periodic indulgence into high-fashion clothes makes her a challenging live-in participate and opponent for Colin.

            For its filmmaking qualities it is good, but nothing groundbreaking. Standard lower-third labels meshed with hundreds of head and shoulder interview segments. I watched it on Netflix, it’s an instant play movie, so I’m not sure if that affected the quality but many shots appeared to be soft on focus. The lighting was almost always done with available light, and at times the music accompanying the final cut of the movie made it seem like a cheap reality TV show rather than a documentary feature.

            But my complaints aren’t with the filmmaking.

            Colin tried hard. He enforced the laws he made for his family and the conviction and sincerity in his voice during the first ten minutes of the film, make the “experiment,” as he calls it, seem very noble and humble. However, that attitude gets lost throughout the year, and even compression of a year down to less than two hours can’t hide it.

            I blame the death of that nobility and inspiration on his wife. She seemed to play the role of Eve, constantly trying to feed Adam the apple. She cheated on his rules when she was alone, complained constantly when around him, and never seemed encouraging to his dream. With time, it wore him down. It wasn’t hard to see the stress in Colin’s eyes by the film’s end.    

            I wondered at the start of the movie, why make a movie out of it? Colin is a writer after-all and he’s turning the story into a book. The only plausible reason I could come up with was to inspire people. Inspire people who will watch a movie (but not read a book), to do more (or less) for/to the environment. I haven’t seen a lot of “green movement” movies, but it’s hard not to compare this to other environmentally focused films.

            I think of An Inconvenient Truth or The Human Footprint and I think about how they affected me. I felt like unplugging the refrigerator and turning off all the lights in the house. And honestly—that’s good. That’s what the movie should do to its audience. It should make you want to change. It should inspire you to be a better steward of the incredible planet God gave us to live on. Sadly without that, No Impact Man becomes nothing more than a stunt.

            Watching Colin and his family withdraw from the easy life in the name of protecting the environment was interesting enough to finish the movie. And to witness him take up the challenge in the middle of New York City made it an even more difficult challenge and a more appealing story.

            There was one great scene I’d like to mention. It’s a scene with some friends of theirs; they’re having a party to celebrate the six-month mark. They play charades the adults laugh, the baby coos, and it’s just captured so naturally. As if, somehow, a group of real people forgot the camera was there for a moment.

            I don’t doubt Colin’s heart or ferocity on the issue. I think he learned a lot over the year, about himself, his wife, and stewardship. But the display becomes lavish and then weakens when that same heart for a moral action fails to be passed on to the  audience. When the movies over, I don’t feel like I have to do anything. In fact, I’d be more motivated to be a witness at divorce court for Colin and Michelle than turn off a light—and that’s the wrong response.

              I hope that I’m unusual in this feeling. I hope that more people will see the film and say, “Ya know, giving everything up might be hard and impractical, but I can at least do my little part better.” That’s the response I would have liked to have had. I enjoy being inspired to better myself and the world—why shouldn’t I? But I didn’t have that response.


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