September 10, 2009

Escape from Suburbia (2007)

IN HIS 2004 DOCUMENTARY The End of Suburbia, director Gregory Greene examined the connection between the impending shortage of cheap oil and the end of the American dream (i.e., mass consumption in suburbia).

With his follow-up, Escape from Suburbia, Greene takes a harder look at the cost (literally and figuratively) of the problem surrounding “peak oil” – the point when half the oil that’s usable in the world has been, well, used.


According to experts in Escape, prices will skyrocket after peak oil due to limited supply, essentially putting an end to the idea of cheap oil. Scary stat: The experts believe the era of peak oil to be between 2005 and 2015. (In other words, we’re in it right now.)

Amidst the slew of these doom-and-gloom talking heads (politicians, authors, industry experts, government agents) declaring peak oil’s aftershocks as inevitable, Greene also follows several people trying to make their future less reliant on their current lifestyle of consumption:
Carol & Jan, “eco pioneers” moving from Oregon to Canada to live in a more positive environment. (“Running toward the light rather than running away from the darkness,” says Jan.)
Tom & Phil, a gay couple who have decided to leave New York City because living there doesn’t seem sustainable.
Kate, a single mom and avid part of the green movement, living in Toronto with her teenage son and making speaking engagements for her cause.

Green also intersperses Escape with retro newsreels and animated vignettes showing how earlier generations were promised a world of unlimited resources. We also get a glimpse of news segments from the ‘70s on that decade’s energy crisis, showing us that we basically learned nothing from what happened 30 years ago.


Escape from Suburbia can be hard to watch for two main reasons:
1. It’s scary as hell to think of the ramifications of an energy crisis that we’ve chosen to ignore – and which will most definitely happen soon.
2. The solutions proposed by those in the film – be they global solutions or backyard activism – seem like they’ll take much more support, participation, and legislation to make them effective.

Not only does Escape tell us that our future needs more involvement from everybody, it also needs a lot less resistance from corporations. Jan ruefully admits that no amount of campaign reform can match the power of these behemoths, while an expert speaking with him puts it best: “For every solution that’s out there, there’s a company trying to sabotage it.”

Greene uses a large portion of Escape covering the possible solution of localizing economies, community farms in particular. (The segment about a 14-acre community farm in South Central LA is amazing…and ultimately heartbreaking.)

The second half of Escape from Suburbia is filled with stories and interviews of people who have done as the title suggests – left the suburbs and cities to literally live off the land through community farms and eco-villages.

A couple nits:
• At times, watching Escape from Suburbia does seem a bit like homework. There are countless opinions and hypothetical solutions offered, and so many experts are interviewed that when one of them is reintroduced later in the film, you need a minute to remember his name or credentials, let alone his stance on the peak oil problem.
• My attention began to wane near the end, having been inundated with professional opinions and personal stories surrounding the peak oil problem. With some deft editing, all the key elements of Escape could have been told concisely in about two-thirds of its 95-minute running time.

Whether you believe none, some, most, or all of it, Escape from Suburbia is a thought-provoking film about a problem most of America has disregarded. The movie’s opening quote, from the Sufi mystic Rumi, may symbolize our current situation best:

“Sit, be still, and listen…for you are drunk and we are at the edge of the roof.”


Will your kids want to watch it?
While there’s nothing offensive in Escape from Suburbia, I doubt children would have the capacity to understand it all, nor the patience to sit through it. However, it might be a good wake-up call for teenagers to see the world they will most likely inherit as adults – perhaps giving them incentive to make a better place for their and future generations.

Will your FilmMother like it?
While Escape from Suburbia isn’t exactly a movie to save for a date/movie night at home, it is something you should urge her to watch. It’ll definitely make for an engaging conversation after you’ve both seen it.


Escape from Suburbia
• Director: Gregory Greene
• Screenwriter: Gregory Greene
• MPAA Rating: N/A

Rent Escape from Suburbia from Netflix >>

1 comment:

Retro Hound said...

Where's that hole in the sand? You yanked my head right out of it.


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