Best Environmental Films [World Environment Day]: A Message from Nature
Last Saturday marked World Environment Day, an annual celebration for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. Environmental films have been prevalent in film for a long time with numerous documentaries exposing conservation and pollution issues whilst fiction film has explored global catastrophes and nature’s wrath in the Disaster Movie genre. Filmmakers have been inspired by environmental issues for a long time and many have translated this into some incredible pieces of fiction film that can be heartwarming, harrowing and eye-opening. Some are much more on the surface with their messages, such as The Day After Tomorrow and 2012, whilst others are more nuanced in their messages, weaving a warning or a theme into a developed narrative.
For this list I wanted to focus on the fictional films that carry an environmentalism message with them that helps us understand our world better. Some are optimistic, some not, but all of them are worth a watch for their commentary on the state of the environmental landscape. Here are 9 Eco-Fiction films that will both entertain you and expand your understanding of the world we live in.
Soylent Green (1973) – Pollution and Overpopulation
Despite premiering just under 50 years ago, Soylent Green’s environmental warning about climate change, overpopulation and the devastating effects of environmental pollution is still scarily relevant today. This Dystopian Sci-Fi is set in 2022 (terrifyingly), overpopulation means millions of people are jobless and starving, whilst the rich elite eat well and live in spacious apartments. A large corporation, Soylent Industries, controls most of the world’s food supply, but keeps it in short measure causing riots amongst the starving. There’s a plot about a murder investigation in there too, but the harsh eco messaging seems to stick in viewers memories much more than the actual narrative does. It all ends with the secret of what Soylent Green is being revealed, and it’s not pretty.
FernGully: The Last Rainforest (1992) – Industrialisation and Deforestation
Animated children’s films don’t just deal in fairytales and happily ever afters, often they have strong messages that help mold the way kids see the world. FernGully doesn’t hide it’s environmental message, it may involve fantasy creatures, fairies and magic but it’s main message is about the devastating effects of deforestation and how human ignorance is affecting the environment. Set in the Australian rainforest, a young fairy Crysta discovers that loggers are cutting down the trees and ruining the land. She shrinks down on of the loggers, Zak, to save him from a falling tree and then introduces him to consequences of the loggers actions. The villain, Hexxus is the embodiment of this human destruction and pollution and he is truly terrifying in this animation, strongly showing the villainy of industrialisation and taking over natural resources.
WALL-E (2008) – Waste and Pollution
Pixar knows how to tackle heavy themes in its films, from mental health to grief, and with WALL-E, the growing problem of waste and pollution left by the humans on Earth. For a mostly silent animated film it has a loud message about environmentalism and consumerism, scathingly shown through the humans who ride hovering recliners with screens lodged in front of them and giant gulp cups permanently stuck to their hands. The old world is in pure squalor, covered in waste, and only inhabited by a Waste Allocation Load Lifter Earth-class, or WALL-E. At its roots the film is a stunningly animated love story between two robots that is beautiful to watch, but it’s hard to deny its eco message, especially over time. The director may have tried to deny its status as an ‘environmental parable’ but even if it wasn’t intentionally menat it’s definitely highly evident.
The Road (2009) – Ecological Collapse
Based on a Cormac McCarthy novel, this post-apocalyptic film about survival in a harsh new world after an ecological disaster has left it uninhabitable and pushed the humans there to consume each other to live. Following The Man and The Boy as they search for hospitable land in a dystopian world, this film may never fully delve into the event that caused this landscape but it does explore it in an unyielding and harrowing narrative. The duo must hunt for food in a barren wasteland, protect themselves from cannibals and survive the harsh terrain that is the new world. The Road is a haunting image of what could happen after the environmental and ecological demise of the Earth, a world in which a young boy has never tasted Coca-Cola and knows only survival, not truly living.
The Bay (2012) – Pollution
Found Footage Horror is a particular vice of mine and I enjoy how this one is framed as a news report/documentary which adds to the realism of the events happening in this eco-horror. An idyllic small seaside town, Chesapeake Bay, is celebrating Fourth of July, putting on eating contests and fireworks displays near the water of the bay. Unfortunately, they are unaware of the dangers below the surface of their little town, caused by the pollution of the water source by the nearby chicken farms chemical dumping. The residents begin developing rashes and sores, they vomit up blood and other nastiness and ultimately fall victim to a grisly and disgusting death. This demise is caused by parasitic isopods that, through pollution, have grown abnormally large and overbred, taking over the bay. This is truly a horrific look at the consequences of chemical and pollutant dumping in open water.
Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012) – Climate Change
This little Indie flick is a beautiful Magical Realism story about the strength of a young girl in the face of a daunting future. Hushpuppy belongs to a tight knit community who live in The Bathtub, a waterlogged area on the outskirts of America that has been cut off from the city by a giant levy. The icecaps are melting and the water is rising, threatening not only to drown her believed island but also to release prehistoric beasts called Aurochs who eat children (in actuality they are adorable dressed up piglets who will only melt your hearts). With it’s links to the devastating natural and societal effects of Hurricane Katrina and commentary on what it means to be with nature instead of against it, Beasts of the Southern Wild is a modern fairytale about growing up and looking after those you love.
Okja (2017) – Overpopulation and Food Sustainability
So, really I could have included pretty much any of Bong Joon-Ho’s films on this list, be it his 2006 monster movie The Host about the mutated outcome of polluted water, or his 2013 follow up Snowpiercer that not only deals with climate change but also social class injustices and the desperation of a post-apocalyptic world. But it had to be this one. Okja is an incredibly adorable super-pig who has been genetically modified by scientists and is taken away from it’s loving owner, Mija, to be the poster pet for a meat corporation. Alongside being a truly heart-warming film it’s also a scathing satire of corporate greed and the exploitation of animals by the food industry. It may look like a kids film but its message and harrowing moments are not for the young.
Mother! (2017) – Mother Nature
Mother! is a supremely divisive film that seemed to really split both audiences and critics into love and hate piles. It can be read as a biblical allegory with characters representing God, Adam and Eve and Cain and Abel, but there’s also an environmental message present. This is shown explicitly through the character of Mother, who essentially is the personification of Mother Nature. Throughout the film she is tormented by the influx of too many humans, the changes of her home and the threats to her creations, much like the Earth itself. It’s a nightmarish imagining of human failings to nature and it’s distressing and disturbing to watch in many ways. In the guise of a biblical narrative Horror movie is a true story of terror, that of the ravaging effects of climate change and the destruction of Mother Nature.
The Beach House (2019) – Climate Change
A romantic getaway turns into a fight for survival when a couple find themselves against the forces of nature in a secluded beach house. Similar to the previous entry on this list, The Bay, this film deals with an infection that takes over the host’s body after a strange spore fog is released from the ocean floor and is spreading to land quickly. The cause for this infectious release is the rising temperature of the Earth giving this a clear environmental message. The spore causes everything humans rely on to become deadly to them, trees, water and even the air itself turns against them. It’s incredibly interesting to hear the lead, Emily, discuss her chosen subject of astrobiology and how impactful minor changes can be to an ecosystem. This film turns environmental warnings into full blown gross out eco body horror that will have you cringing and wincing in it’s darker moments.