‘I Am Greta’ is grim visual epitome of climate change crisis

Greta
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A proper schoolgirl, a climate activist and a revolutionary change-maker. Greta Thunberg has taken the world stage by storm in her relentless fight against the existential crisis of climate change. In a society where money-grabbing politicians have capitalized on the air breathed and the grounds walked to advance economic growth, Thunberg chooses to not stand idly. In “I Am Greta,” director Nathan Grossman illustrates Thunberg’s inspiring blossom from staging lonely Friday school strikes to transforming the global conversation of climate change permanently.

In opening images, sound bites of false claims about climate change by journalists and world leaders layered with tapes of natural disasters, such as blazing forest fires and engulfing hurricanes, rhetorically unwind. Then, in stark contrast, the film promptly pans to 15-year-old Thunberg striking tirelessly in front of the Swedish Parliament to bring attention to the expiring life span of a salvageable environment. Party of one, Thunberg toughens through the side-eyes and scoffs of passing pedestrians. This marks the beginning of her movement.

Grossman zeroes in on the innocence, childhood and mental strife of the teenager. As domestic and foreign notables and citizens characterize Thunberg as an emotional radicalist, a courageous voice representing the youth or something in between, “I Am Greta” pulls you in to examine a personal, unseen side of her. Thunberg’s contagious laugh and petty arguments with her father reframes her personality, one undefined by her work on climate change. Her growing frustration and overwhelm with empty political promises sharply remind the viewer that she still is a kid who feels feelings as much as any other and who shouldn’t bear the heavy responsibility of global crises that adults should be paying attention to. 

Archival videos provide context of Thunberg’s criticism of her family’s past high consuming behavior, namely buying items in excess or driving a petrol car. Grossman incorporates these snippets seamlessly, revealing how Thunberg not just looks outward for change, but also inward. Now older, her consistency in her green message is materialized, as the documentary follows her historic voyage across the Atlantic Ocean by boat — to deliberately avoid aviation — from England to New York City to speak at the 2019 United Nations Climate Action Summit.

Fragments of Thunberg’s piercing speeches make their way into the film. In these, Thunberg candidly condemns the disgraceful complicity of political leaders who fail to work against time-sensitive environmental threats, including carbon emissions and ocean acidification. Her damning “How Dare You?” address was the moment she shook the government walls of all countries, arguing that their inaction is grossly intolerable and that sweeping change must happen immediately. But Thunberg’s repetition of the same persisting words, from Sweden to Rome to the United States, is a clear indication that change still has not arrived. So, the documentary shows, she must press on.

Grossman works with day-to-day footage to produce the groundwork of the chronicle. He records Thunberg greeting attendees of climate conferences and reacting to protests sprouting in all parts of the world. Superimposed with Thunberg’s voice-overs, the documentary is driven by viewers hearing her intimate, raw thoughts at all times. While listening to Thunberg humanizes her and her unbreakable fortitude, Grossman misses an opportunity to offer face-to-face interviews with her and those close to her that would strike a direct, reckoning chord in the audience’s heart.

Nevertheless, the circulating theme of climate change cuts deeply in the narrative’s core. Viewers witness how this impending issue has orchestrated the global arena through the eyes of one of the most dominant voices in the effort. The film focuses on Thunberg’s journey, but really, it is more of a spread of awareness — a call to action, a declaration to care about the planet’s health. As the documentary outlines how the livelihoods of future generations quite literally lie in the hands of present action, the audience is moved to tears. With Thunberg’s unwavering activism pioneering the environmental movement across the planet, “I Am Greta” reaffirms the immense urgency of effectively fighting climate change before it is simply too late.

Contact Ashley Tsai at [email protected].