Movie review: The Magnitude of All Things
Filmmaker Jennifer Abbott weaves a magical thread of connection between life and death in The Magnitude of All Things, a highly personal documentary about loss, contextualized by climate change.
The Magnitude of All Things
Directed by: Jennifer Abbott
Running time: 1 hr 26 mins
Rating: Parental Guidance
Now Streaming on nfb.ca
By Katherine Monk
Filmmaker Jennifer Abbott finds a concrete connection between our dying planet Earth and the frailty of humanity with a highly personal documentary that fuses the reality of climate change with the death of her sister. Diagnosed with breast
cancer and given one to three years left to live, Abbott set about recording her thoughts as she criss-crossed the globe collecting stories of looming extinction.
From the Amazon rainforests, where she hears the stories of “tahuanu” — the life spirit — to the reaches of the far north, where indigenous Canadians are struggling to process the rapid change of the surrounding landscape, Abbott rides the edge of unfathomable depression with her actual subject matter.
After all, this is a movie about death and dying. And death and dying is not something humans like to talk about all that much. Our culture continually pushes it out of the frame, so we don’t have to cogitate the end of so much beauty. And yet, in denying the death that surrounds us, we’re not only indulging in delusion, she suggests we’re robbing ourselves, and future generations, of the single gift that arises in times of cataclysm: Awareness of our place in the universe, and seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole.
This is a point articulated beautifully by Greta Thunberg, who Abbott chases down in Stockholm, and captures once more on camera. Thunberg scolds the politicians who think about their political careers ahead of life in general, but she also echoes the underlying mood of the whole piece: WE ARE ALREADY IN MOURNING. Grief and depression about climate change is a real thing. Eco-anxiety is currently being batted around as a clinical condition within the psychiatric community, and Abbott’s film offers ample proof of its symptoms — as well as a possible treatment.
..In denying the death that surrounds us, we’re not only indulging in delusion, she suggests we’re robbing ourselves, and future generations, of the single gift that arises in times of cataclysm: Awareness of our place in the universe, and seeing ourselves as part of a larger whole.
First, we must open our eyes to the change, and take it all in without futile attempts at turning the clock back. The future will look different. And we will have to bear witness to wholesale extinctions, and ambient death. Abbott and her sister grew up in a “world of beginnings… with butterflies and fireflies.” She and her sister never thought they would be embracing a future with nothing but goodbyes.
It’s the same realization the survivors of Australia’s bush fires woke up to as they watched koalas roast in the forest. We are all part of what the film refers to as a “Grief circle” — where the only thing we can do is mourn together, and whenever possible, realize it’s not over yet. There is still time to act, and much we can all do, but we have to make peace with the death first — and accept responsibility for our place in the great cycle. Sure, we’re still plagued by ego and the illusion of personal importance, but when we refocus and see ourselves as participants in the story of our species, we may be able to transcend the guilt and actually do something meaningful.
THE EX-PRESS, April 30, 2022