By Bill Arceneaux
The catching and selling of seafood had been the backbone of an area of Gulf Coast Alabama for generations, but ever since the BP Oil Spill — the largest disaster of its kind — locals have seen their jobs disappear. As one man put it, Katrina ruined the homes, the oil spill ruined the livelihoods. In the poorest of neighborhoods, signs that read, “Nothing left to steal, get the eff out,” adorn trailers. It could mean traditional looters, but I’d bet it’s a creative and desperate nudge against the true perpetrators.
The Great Invisible doesn’t sugar coat anything. It’s a documentary always on point — a sharp point. I assume the title is akin to “the giant elephant in the room,” as oil is something we’re sitting on, cannot see, and refuse to discuss intelligently or, more importantly, honestly. It’s clear that this movie wants change for both the industry that pummels the Earth for energy and the legislators who “regulate” this work. But, alternative sources like solar and wind are not heavily advocated — it’s an all fossil and dirty fuel affair.
Dirty describes it all best.
The camera operates in a fly on the wall manner, almost voyeuristic, capturing conversations between people at their most intimate and real. A group of Houston businessmen— the business being oil and gas — smoke cigars and drink liquor in a captured sequence that reminds me too much of pre-Great Depression wealthy folk, in the silliest and most disturbing of ways. They sit around, talk politics and such, and share anecdotes about their influences. It’s all about prosperity for all, they like to think and say. That smoke you just puffed into the air tells me something else, sir.
On the flip side of the greed on display, we get the sadness of tragedy and harsh awakening to end all harsh awakenings. The Deepwater Horizon rig, which exploded and released all that oil into the environment, is treated with both a sense of wonder and of regret. “We drilled the deepest oil hole in the world” a former worker says, alive with pride. This feeling is deeply held in other industry people, who would hate to see their business go away. For them, it’s more than money.
The events that caused death and destruction are used as a metaphor — brilliantly — for our lust for energy and the potential collapse of our system if we don’t begin to transition. In one moment, an oil rig history tour guide asks a group of kids if they believe that oil comes from fossils. He then states that God created and provides it, disturbing me even further. “It’s just a theory,” he says over and over regarding the fossil origins. I suppose when we can’t drill anymore, he’ll have some questions for a certain deity.
The only mission of The Great Invisible is to have and extend the conversation about oil as an energy source, as an industry and as a foundation for communities. The movie does have a keen eye and clear mind for expressing the finer points of its argument for change, using cinematic techniques ferociously. It’s in those abilities and its heavy heart that the film stands out as a possible catalyst for real transformation.
The Great Invisible plays at The Manship Theatre on April 19. For more from the author, follow him on twitter @BillReviews.