Movie Review: No Impact Man: The Documentary (2009)
Colin Beavan writes history books, but when he decides that the future is just as important, he sets his sights on living with no impact on the environment for one year. This is complicated by the fact that he, his wife, Michelle, and their two year old daughter live in a fifth avenue apartment in New York City. As they gradually eliminate elements of their life from coffee (since it can’t be locally grown) to electricity, they both question their true motives and impact on others.
This is really two movies in one. One is about the modern environmental movement and the other about a year in the life of a couple.
Michelle and Colin are a bit of an odd match. She craves Starbucks lattes, Marc Jacobs bags, loves her job at Business Week, and wants more kids. He….well, it isn’t entirely clear what he wants. In the moments when he forgets the camera is there, it seems that he almost feels guilty for living. That he feels guilty for humanity existing at all. Michelle agreed to the project because she wanted to live a moderate existence and she felt that the year would snap her out of her shopping and tv watching addictions, whereas Colin feels guilty about using toilet paper because one tree might die. He clearly views humanity as a pariah, which leaves me wondering why he agreed to get married in the first place. That saddens me, because the environmental movement should be about embracing humanity as a part of nature. We’re not overlords or a pariah; we’re just the animals with the greatest impact on the planet.
The documentary is intriguing to watch. It strikes just the right pace. Viewers less familiar with the movement will be shocked at the worm bin (I lived with one made by my old roommate, Nina). They’ll be surprised and delighted at the dishes Colin creates using only locally grown food throughout the year, an introduction to the localvore movement to viewers who may not have heard about it. Hopefully they’ll be able to see past the extremes Colin takes it to and realize that some elements of the movement are very much worth working into their life. For instance, at the end of the year, Michelle herself says that she wants to keep biking to work and going to the farmer’s market. She enjoys the health benefits of biking built into her day and the sense of community from knowing the people who grew her food. Personally, I like to view the environmental movement more as a lifestyle movement. Hopefully viewers will see those aspects of it through the hype and Colin’s self-hating guilt.
This documentary is absolutely worth the watch. If you enjoyed Morgan Spurlock’s more well-known documentaries, you will enjoy this film.
4 out of 5 stars