The lasting impact of An Inconvenient Truth, like all movies, will be told by time. But unlike most movies, An Inconvenient Truth is about the survival of the human race, so the determination of its importance is important, as they say, now more than ever. Primarily constructed from the touring multi-media presentation Al Gore estimates he has given at least 1,000 times since 1989, An Inconvenient Truth lays out a case that humankind must take responsibility for the phenomenon of global warming.
At the outset of his presentation, Gore says, "I'm Al Gore—I used to be the next President of the United States." And though Gore mentions unnamed "friends" and scientists and directly credits former Harvard professor Roger Revelle, An Inconvenient Truth doesn't hide its focused promotion of Gore as a celebrity spokesman for the environmental movement and, perhaps, once and future Presidential candidate. For that reason, Republicans will be understandably skeptical of An Inconvenient Truth, and Democrats will be inclined to take it entirely at face value.
The interstitial segments that briefly interrupt Gore's lecture offer context, some of which is perhaps misleading (the film implies that Gore edits his slide show himself—his staff is kept scrupulously off-screen) and some of which is personal. Surprisingly, the personal material is largely relevant to Gore's lecture, the goal of which is a sea change in thinking. Gore refers to the paradigm shifts of his farmer father (over the link between tobacco and lung cancer, from which Gore's sister died) and himself (when Gore's young son nearly died). Just for fun, Gore also points out the spot where—at age 14—he totalled the family car.
And despite his doomsaying message, Gore has more fun that we're accustomed to seeing. He cracks a few choice jokes and screens the Futurama "explanation" of global warming (more than once, Gore lent his voice to the show, for which his daughter Kristin wrote). Poised and persuasive, Gore shows more flair and less woodenness than he has in the past. Director Davis Guggenheim obliges with tasteful, smooth direction, and Melissa Etheridge contributes the anthem "I Need to Wake Up."
Okay, then: what of the message? For starters, An Inconvenient Truth is definitely propaganda on an issue that remains divisive. Only obliquely referring to doubters, while gently mocking them, Gore insists that humankind has caused global warming—a likely truth but an assertion that not all scientists support (Gore cites a dubious Science magazine survey that claims near-unanimous scientific consensus on man-made global warming). Gore makes some other scientific leaps that exclude other possible causes for striking environmental events, including Hurricane Katrina. (Gore would also be more credible if he confessed to his own failures on behalf of the environment, not all of which are attributable to the US Senate.)
However, global warming itself is hardly disputed (some claim it's part of a natural planetary cycle of warming and cooling), and An Inconvenient Truth's scary catalog of climate shifts and their consequences is generally convincing. So too is the assertion that the current administration resides brazenly in the pocket of big business while—if Gore is right—the Earth is at a crucial turning point. Even if Gore is wrong, and I'm not saying he is, his proposed solutions are common-sensibly sound: learn more, become politically active, conserve energy, reduce pollution, and plant trees.
Though these behaviors may or may not cure global warming, they will undoubtedly make the planet healthier. Why roll the dice on our home and, as Gore emphasizes, future generations? To protect business interests? For spite? If it takes Gore scaring us to adopt a greener lifestyle, well, so be it.