March of the Penguins: Unbearable Truths

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I‘ve learned that when a crowd of people listen to a presentation or watch a film, they don’t hear and see the same thing. Everything is filtered through the ‘frames’ of their worldview, what they understand to be true and believe to be right.

When March of the Penguins came to local theatres, I didn’t go. I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear it. On Friday night it premiered on the Canadian movie channel. I watched, as best as I could, spending most of it in tears and at times turning away, unable to look.

The movie critics, for the most part, saw it as just a documentary, and while being unwilling to criticize it overall (the cinematography is stunning, and the script is factual and non-moralizing — this is just a simple true story, after all), some of them were annoyed at the ‘anthropomorphizing’ — the mere suggestion that non-human creatures can actually think and feel, and aren’t doing what they do ‘automatically’. I don’t know what planet such people live on, but then there are still some people who believe global warming isn’t man-made, or even that it is not occurring at all. Hell, there are still some people who believe the world is only a few thousand years old and will soon be ‘saved’ by a big funny-looking guy in a beard.

Having read the positive but underwhelming critical reviews, I learned as well that conservatives ‘saw’ the film as a reaffirmation of their values — monogamy, heterosexuality, family above all. As Paul Simon said “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest”.

Those of you who ‘know’ me will know that what I saw in this film was:

  • Evidence of the astonishing joy, sensitivity, love, acceptance, appreciation, wisdom, courage and resilience that permeates all life on Earth: These creatures know the real meaning and value of life and how to live more richly and sustainably, and hence better, than we humans have in millennia; and
  • Realization of the staggering beauty, wonder and precious value of what we humans are now thoughtlessly and recklessly destroying.

Penguins have been living the same way of life depicted in this film for fifty million years, nearly twenty times as long as our species has been on Earth. They are part of the astonishing diversity and complexity of life that has emerged to be perfect for this strange, vulnerable and hostile planet, to keep it in Sacred Balance. And thanks to our species, this will all be gone in one hundred years or so. All gone, destroyed, extinguished forever. All because we humans, we arrogant monsters, believe that our ‘right’ to breed 6, or 9, or 14 billion rapacious, destructive, thoughtless, unconscious members of our own species trumps the ‘right’ of every other creature on this planet to exist.

In nature there are no ‘rights’ — this is an abstract, human concept, invented to prevent our stressed out, mentally ill, massively excessive numbers from killing each other arbitrarily, and giving us an excuse to exterminate other species and claim ‘personal’ ‘ownership’ of their, of our collective Earth.

In nature there are only responsibilities. That is the unbearable truth of March of the Penguins. That is why I cried all the way through it, why I had to turn away at the gentle, noble lessons that these wondrous, gorgeous creatures show us, try to teach us, with every move, every glance, everything they do.

But we cannot hear them any more. Our human ‘frames’ no longer countenance such truths. It is all too late. This film is not merely a celebration of life in a place of terrible beauty. It is an early memorial to the unbearable truth of what our horrifically irresponsible and insensitivespecies will soon have extinguished.

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8 Responses to March of the Penguins: Unbearable Truths

  1. Niran Sabanathan says:

    I find it sad and incomprehensible that our spiecies could blithely condem nature and our own future in a quest for a nicer shampoo bottle. What I don’t think people grasp is that in the end it is not about saving cute little animals, but rather through the act of preserving our own environment, we are creating a space where our children and the children of other species can live, in beauty. The human devised system can in no way sustain our species and even if they could, what nightmare barren existence would that be ? There is a quote which sums it up, but I can’t remember who said it. “Earth will find a new balanace, with or without us.”

  2. Alexi says:

    I like your comments and intelligence, so much so, I link to your site from mine. I am an environmentalist and a Christian. I don’t believe the world is only a few thousand years old and I am well educated in arts, sciences and business. I would ask that you don’t insult my religion. Referring to my Creator as “a big funny-looking guy in a beard” is not up to your usual standards. Please have tolerance for all faiths. There are many ways for us to seek our truths and I respect your beliefs, will you respect mine?

  3. theresa says:

    We should remember that all the founders of great religions were revolutionaries and radicals in their time. I’ll have to see that movie, it was hard to follow the post without knowing anything about it. I’m sure it will be worth watching. I don’t follow the news reviews too much anymore. Thanks for reminding me of one of my favorite songs “The Boxer”, I haven’t listened to it for a long time.

  4. David Jones says:

    Alexi: If there ever was a need for someone to lighten up, this is it. The remark was a joke about evident human absurdity in the face of the stark truth and beauty of this world and the life and grandeur in it.

  5. Greg. says:

    You’re on the money. I wish many more people could understand that ‘humans’ are just another animal on this fragile planet – and yes – a monstrous breed at that.

  6. Candy Minx says:

    Hi I think I may be having trouble posting with this system, I’ll try again. Really felt for you in this post Dave, and wanted to recommend an incredible book by FransDeWaal called The Ape and The Sushi Master…a primotologist, DeWaals records and demonstrates the culture and social teachings of animals. Animals do have culture and social language…anyone who has ever had a pet knows this. Only the wesstern enlightenment science era thought animals less than humans…but that is changing now.I bet you would also like the movie Eight Below…trust me those dogs are awesome actors!CheersCandy

  7. Dave Pollard says:

    Niran, Theresa, David, Greg, Candy: Thanks for the comments, and Candy for the book and movie recommmendations. Alexi: I was trying to be funny, but at the same time I cannot respect or tolerate religions that espouse or even condone overpopulation and environmental destruction. Organized religions are criminally responsible for much of the horror and damage that has been perpetrated in this world in the past, and continue to contribute in no small way to the irresponsible human behaviour today that is inevitably going to result in unimaginable hardship and suffering for future generations.

  8. Wolfie says:

    Rock on Dude! Well said.

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