Force of Nature
Starring: David Suzuki
Runtime: 93 mins. Reviewed in Nov 2011
A Canadian of Japanese descent, David Suzucki’s childhood memories are dominated by his family’s internment in an ‘enemy aliens’ camp during World War 2, which resulted in both the deportation of his grandparents to Japan where they died in Hiroshima, and the development of a profound understanding of the nature of racial prejudice.
Now in his seventies, at a stage of life that this deeply interesting man calls ‘the death zone’, this well made documentary by Canadian filmmaker Sturla Gunarrsson (Boewolf and Grendel, 2005), explores Suzuki’s lifelong journey into the meaning of life, and the wonders of nature, against the backdrop of a lecture he gave in Vancouver in 2009.
A globetrotter who has visited Australian many times, Suzuki is seen before a packed audience explaining the creation of the universe from the Big Bang to the emergence of myriad galaxies, stars and planets. As he explains with eloquent simplicity the complexity and beauty of evolving life on earth and the mystery of consciousness, Gunnarsson intercuts the lecture with intimate interviews and footage that give insight into why Suzuki has been driven all his life to answer the questions that all thoughtful human beings ask: Who are we? Why are we here? Where are we going?
In many ways Suzuki is a profoundly religious man. A professor of genetics at the University of British Columbia from 1963 to 2001, and one of the first to alert the world through books and television of the calamitous effects on earth of unchecked global warming, Suzuki’s understanding of science is underpinned by a deep spirituality that sees beyond particle physics into metaphysical mystery.
From the swampland near his home in Leamington, Ontario, where Suzuki as a teenager found solace in the magic of nature as an antidote to the prejudice attached to being ‘coloured’, Suzuki takes the viewer into his office at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee, home of the Manhattan Project which developed the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan.
In his research studying flies at ORNL during the 1970s, this is where Suzuki became convinced that science was the most powerful route to knowing, and it was here too that he met and married his first wife, became involved in the Civil Rights movement, and through his understanding of the delicate interdependency of all nature (which Suzuki calls a ‘single matrix’), became an activist.
The forces of the natural world impose limitations on how we can live, says Suzuki, emphasizing that capitalism and the economy are inventions of our own making, and not forces of nature that must be revered and worshipped. And by the clarity of his explanation of ‘exponential growth’ (the rate at which things grow in proportion to a growing size or number), makes his point cogently that with finite resources, relentless growth is suicidal.
Despite this direness, Force of Nature is less about Suzuki the scientist and educator than Suzuki the man, who believes that our sense of awe and wonder alone has the capacity to change us. Particularly moving and interesting is archival footage that shows Suzuki’s loving relationship with his late father, and his long personal connection with the people of the Haida Nation in north-west British Columbia, one of whom married his daughter.
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