The 11th Hour

The 11th Hour

In true documentary fashion, The 11th Hour is a daunting call-to-action featuring qualified experts from nearly every field of science, revealing graphics showing the widespread decline of our natural resources, and shocking images of people being swept away in floods, fires, and droughts, among other natural disasters. Despite being fact-based and educational, the film presents a strong narrative using the motivation and emotion framework that moves the viewer and makes a powerful, shocking case for saving the planet.

                  The narrative begins with the setting, which is broadly in this case, the Earth. However, the filmmakers are able to shrink that to a much more emotional and sentimental place by referring to it as “our only home.” This rhetoric capitalizes on humans’ deep attachment to and comfort associated with the idea of a home. All natural creatures, humans included, are instinctively and fiercely protective of their home, leading the viewer to wonder why we are not doing more to protect our true home of planet Earth. To enhance the setting, the film is laced with striking images that contrast the aweing beauty of nature with both the massive destruction humans are inflicting upon it and nature’s violent responses. They also stress the notion that we, along with all inhabitants of Earth, exist in an interconnect ecosystem, referred to by some as the “web of life.” They highlight the numerous amount of species we have driven to extinction through our unsustainable consumerism, and reiterate that we are essentially driving ourselves to extinction. As one commentator emotionally and threateningly puts it, we are our greatest weapons of mass destruction.

The film begins with scientific experts and other academics discussing how they each individually believe that the Earth is in grave danger, igniting fear into the viewer for the fate of both current and future generations. They passionately tell a story that features man as the main character, who views himself as superior to and disconnected from nature and the “web of life” in which we exist. This “accelerated disconnection” from nature and humans’ natural tendency to be opportunistic creatures are cited as the driving forces behind the planet’s demise. As one commentator puts it, the problem is in the way humans think- it is deeply rooted in our culture. Experts then take the viewer through the plot of humanity’s very short existence on Earth that has lead us to this point: man’s reliance on simply direct sunlight for food, warmth, wood for shelter, and other life necessities which kept population below one billion; the discovery of “ancient sunlight” in the form of carbon rich oil and coal reserves that allowed man to advance and grow; the industrial revolution driven by these oil reserves and highlighted by the invention of the steam engine, which they note as a turning point. These, among other events, are simply the rising action of the story. The film suggests that the climax of humans’ story on Earth has not yet been reached, but when it is, there will be massive and widespread destruction, hunger, and expenses to pay. In this part of the film, man is clearly the antagonist, who fights back against the Earth and tries to dominate it, rather than existing peacefully within the encompassing ecosystem.

Towards the end of The 11th Hour, the narrative begins to change, however. Commentators portray humans as having all the capacity to be heroic protagonists and do right by nature. Our innovative minds have already created so much useful technology, which we are simply not employing to full potential, and numerous scientists reveal through data how we can reduce our carbon footprint. Most importantly, the potential for further innovation is limitless. It is the institutionalized obstacles and shortsightedness of politicians and industry that hinder our advancement toward a better future, which calls for a large cultural shift in values and how we perceive our place within nature. This switch to an optimistic tone and glimmer of hope is imperative, for the situation must appear dire, but not entirely beyond repair, in order to motivate people to do their part. The 11th Hour strategically instills through a “man versus nature” and a motivational and emotional narrative the right amount of fear, protectiveness, duty, and hope into the hearts of viewers to encourage them to take action today and be the inspiring generation that mobilized collectively to save our beautiful home, the Earth.



Connors, Nadia, Leila Connors Petersen, Chuck Castleberry, Brian Gerber, Leonardo DiCaprio, Pietro                      Scalia, Jean-Pascal Beintus, and Eric Avery. 2008. The 11th Hour. Burbank, CA: Warner Home                    Video.

About Kacey Merlini

I am a sophomore Environmental Social Science major at Davidson College particularly focusing on the political, economic, and social impacts of renewable energy systems and food policy. I also play lacrosse at Davidson, and in my free time I enjoy spending time outdoors and photography.

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