Merchants of Doubt

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday July 7, 2015

Merchants of Doubt

What kind of From-the-Heart-of-Hell sociopath do you have to be to deliberately mislead the public about the scientific facts and the civilization-threatening risks of climate change? What kind of reckless, selfish crimes-against-humanity perpetrating monster would knowingly propel the entire human species down a path of self-destruction?

The documentary "Merchants of Doubt," by filmmaker Robert Kenner (whose 2008 documentary "Food, Inc." was an Oscar nominee) takes a look at that very question, and unveils surprising -- and disturbing -- possibilities.

The most outrageous (though not surprising) revelation is that the great myth that climate science is "not settled" is the handiwork of a handful of flacks -- professional image spinners who make a trade out of spinning and obscuring facts, generating confusion, and basically insisting that black is white and vice versa. But the film -- which features Harvard professor Naomi Orestes, whose book of the same title inspires this movie -- also uncovers how other, seemingly unrelated elements feed into the problem. The cold war, fears of big government, and a willingness on the part of the public to be deceived in order not to have to change a wasteful and ecologically destructive lifestyle: All of these are crucial parts of an equation that spells out certain disaster on a global scale.

It's easy to point fingers at the perpetrators who are coolly, calculatingly trading the future of all humanity for personal profits. These people are nothing less than criminals of the very most dangerous and malicious class -- even though there is, scandalously, nothing illegal about what they are doing. But for every finger we point at the smirking agents of destruction and chaos in our midst, four fingers point right back at us, and the film reminds the viewer of this in a calm, compelling manner.

"Merchants of Doubt" also, fittingly, has a sense of humor, making its points about the deceptive practices of big companies (everything from big oil to big food to big chemical firms) in a smart, wry manner that includes a magician pointing out the parallels between his sleight-of-hand tricks and those used by the people who wish to delay any real public understanding of the problems and the consequences they threaten us with. (Evidently, eco-whistleblowers have learned a thing or two from Al Gore, including the depressing lesson that if people don't like you personally, they will tend to disregard your message -- even at their own peril.)

If you are a tree-hugging liberal, you need to watch this movie to better understand what you're up against, and why the people bent on destroying the Earth's climate are so intransigent. If you are a conservative who really does believe in conservation -- of any sort -- then you need to view this film to see, and understand, how you've been played. (The anti-abortion crowd, in particular, ought to be incensed at how the future of the entire human race is on the verge of being wiped out -- and unborn generations along with it.)

Either way, education holds out hope for us -- not partisan bickering. This film will educate you, if you have eyes to see it. If not... well, if we keep on the same path of congressional gridlock, delusional thinking, and tacit agreement to be lied to, then we have only ourselves to blame when there's nothing left to sustain us.

The special features include commentary with director Robert Kenner; a three-part feature called "Unlikely Voices," which takes brief looks at people and businesses that you might not think would be part of the fight to prioritize a rational and effective response to climate change; and "An Evening at the Toronto Film Festival with Robert Kenner," which is exactly what it sounds like -- Kenner and the film being introduced before a screening of the movie, and then a post-screening Q&A.

"Merchants of Doubt"

Blu-ray / DVD Combo Pack


Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.