Sunday, January 06, 2013
'Promised Land' Undermines Environmental Message, Playing into Industry Hands
By Press Action
If you want intrigue and drama, don’t go see “Promised Land.” If you want to learn about hydraulic fracturing, don’t go see “Promised Land.” If you want to see Matt Damon go Jason Bourne on the natural gas industry, don’t go see “Promised Land.” If you want environmental intrigue and drama, go rent “Erin Brockovich” or “Silkwood.”
But if you’ve been longing to see a meditation on the dilemmas facing small-town America, then “Promised Land” is the movie for you.
During the month-long media tour leading up to its release, Damon and co-star John Krasinski repeatedly said, “‘Promised Land’ is about American identity and where we’ve come from, where we are and where we’re headed.” By describing it as a pro-community movie, not an anti-fracking flick, many pundits believed the actors, who also co-wrote the screenplay and co-produced the movie, were trying to steer clear of the natural gas industry’s wrath.
As it turns out, Damon and Krasinski were telling the truth. Fracking plays second fiddle to the country roads and miniature horses of southwestern Pennsylvania. Despite going soft on fracking, the movie, which opened nationwide on Jan. 5, still drew the ire of shale gas companies and their advocates. In fact, the actors should send a thank-you note to the natural gas industry for stoking controversy that will certainly boost box office sales.
While “Promised Land” may further embed “fracking” into the nation’s lexicon, the film probably won’t turn the average moviegoer into an anti-fracking activist. There are actually very few references to the negative impacts of fracking. The biggest drama is trying to figure out how Krasinski’s character, an environmental activist named Dustin Noble, will one-up Damon’s character, a landman named Steve Butler who works for a large natural gas company. First, Noble outdoes Butler in the romance department. And then he scores again by turning the people of the fictional town of McKinley against Butler and his company.
Then, as Washington Examiner writer Sean Higgins points out, there’s the fact that, through a foreshadowed plot twist, “the film undermines the very environmental message it is supposedly trying to send.”
Nevertheless, the natural gas industry’s campaign against “Promised Land” could turn into a classic win-win situation. Damon and Krasinski will likely bank higher receipts due to the increased attention. And the shale gas industry could boost its credibility among moviegoers due to the film’s extremely mild treatment of fracking. Many moviegoers may leave the theater wondering why there’s so much fuss about a seemingly benign energy extraction process—when compared to coal or oil—with a strange name.
In an interview outside the theater, one moviegoer declared “nobody had any passion” in the film. “There was no tension, no anxiety, no epiphany,” she said. “I wouldn’t have cared either way—if the town had leased all of its land to the gas company, or if the town voted to ban the company, I wouldn’t have said, ‘yay.’”
When asked if she thought the movie would raise awareness about the impacts of fracking, the moviegoer said, “No, I don’t think it will do that because it didn’t have any meat or passion in it. There was nothing that said, ‘Wow, fracking is awful.’”
So why is the natural gas industry casting the film in such a negative light? “They are bringing it publicity because they know that when people go in, they’re going to think that fracking is no big deal,” the moviegoer said. “It didn’t have any quotes that you could Twittify. It doesn’t have any sound bites that you could quote from. There were no teachable moments in it.”
While “Promised Land” doesn’t rise to the level of “Silkwood” or “Erin Brockovich,” it’s still worth a trip to the theater. There’s charm in the small-town meditation. The acting is first-rate. The cinematography is strong. And there actually is at least one teachable moment. It’s when Damon’s character is talking about the virtues of natural gas and how erecting roadblocks to fracking will almost certainly lead the country back to greater use of coal and oil.
In that soliloquy, Steve Butler mentions another option, one that rarely, if ever, gets mentioned in the mainstream media or even among environmental activists: cutting consumption. The tacit premise in our culture is we must grow the economy. But a simple paradigm shift away from our growth-centric economic system will go a long way toward solving our energy and environmental problems. But, as Damon’s character says, “That’s a conversation we don’t seem to want to have.”Share