Panel 5: Speculation & Science



Panel 5: Speculation & Science

“The Extinction-haunted Setting of The Monster that Challenged the World (1957)”

Bridgitte Barclay (Associate Professor of English, Aurora University)

Silent Running and the Metaphor of Spaceship Earth”

Matthew Thompson (Ph.D. candidate in cinema studies, University of Toronto)

“Christianity, Climate Change, and Cinema”

Everett Hamner (Associate Professor of English, Western Illinois University)

“The Future Is Wild: Speculative Evolution and the Post-Anthropocene”

Anne Schmalstig (Ph.D. candidate, University of Miami)

Q & A

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76 replies
  1. bbarclay says:

    Great videos, Matthew, Everett, and Anne. I really like how our presentations work together. A couple of questions and connections in particular occurred to me.

    For Everett and Matthew: Everett, I liked the questions you posed at the end of your presentation. I’m wondering specifically about your question focusing on ecological and gendered violence and the film’s structure. I always find the “mother nature” representation highly problematic in terms of gender (and perhaps especially with the traditional Christian view of a “male” god). And Matthew, women in Silent Running are equally as representational, it seems (as you note, there is the photo of the white girl, for example as an impetus for a reason to not jettison the ecosystems). I’m wondering what connections and problems you two and others see between gender in Silent Spring (absence of women but a “do it for the girl” argument) and in Mother! (seemingly an idolization of “mother nature”). And maybe more problematically both clearly have the “future generations” argument, which can be used to essentialize female (re)production (The Handmaid’s Tale book and series, for instance), which is a different problematizing and control of “nature.”

    Anne: I’m fascinated by your discussion of extinction sublime and was thinking of Ursula K. Heise’s term “declensionist” narratives that I refer to in my presentation, narratives which can seemingly be hopeful, as in frontier narratives, but are also “intimately linked to a foreboding sense of […] looming destruction.” I’m wondering if you see her term as similar to the extinction sublime.

    I also just love your points about the dismissal of women and people of color in the scientific narrative and in the idea of slow violence in the future and find the fictional future gragen fascinating in its similarities to the supposedly prehistoric kraken in The Creature that Challenged the World in my video.

    Also, to others who view these, the two beautifully shot documentaries I discuss that are well worth the 5-10 minutes each are Frank Tabouring’s Useless Sea: and Ransom Riggs’ The Accidental Sea:

    • Matthew Thompson, University of Toronto says:

      Hi Brigitte,

      Thanks for your question. In thinking through my reading of Silent Running I have had a hard time working through the idea of “Mother Earth.” For Carolyn Merchant in The Death of Nature, Mother Earth seems to be a mostly positive articulation of the organic metaphor. For Merchant the organic metaphor was the dominant rhetorical representation of the natural world before the Scientific Revolution. After the Scientific Revolution the organic was replaced largely by mechanical metaphors (like Spaceship Earth). Merchant associates this rhetorical shift with an increase in ecological destruction. The strange thing is that the mechanical metaphors used to describe the natural world don’t necessarily lose their female gender. Instead, the life-giving and potent, organic version of Mother Earth gets exchanged for the passive and concealed, mechanical articulation of the Mother Earth trope. For Merchant this new mechanical Mother Earth sanctions all types of environmental and nonhuman abuse. I haven’t thought this all the way through yet, but I think there may be a connection to be made between Merchant’s discussion of natural metaphors and Annette Kolodny’s Lay of the Land where she traces the sexual metaphors used to describe the new world in pastoral literature. For myself, I am wary of gendering the nonhuman world female whether positively or negatively. The concept of Mother Earth seems to rely too heavily on a dichotomy between “chaotic,” “irrational” nature and “ordered,” “rational” society. This binary maps to easily onto traditional patriarchal structures if you ask me. As for Silent Running, I get the sense that Joan Baez’s presence on the score is meant to signify a maternal voice that reverberates through the domes (as if perhaps they were some technological version of Earth wombs, waiting for their gestation to end so that they could give birth to a new nonhuman ecosystem). Baez’s voice unintentionally draws attention to the lack of women on board the Valley Forge, a lack that was mirrored at the time in the NASA space program. As I develop my project I look forward to further exploring the relationship between the Mother Earth and Spaceship Earth tropes, any thoughts and/or advice would be much appreciated!


      • Bridgitte Barclay, Aurora University says:

        Thank you. It’s a problematic concept but a popular one. Alaimo and Hekman’s Material Feminisms deals with the interconnections, and Braidotti and Haraway’s work is helpful. I have major issues with a “mother earth” concept. To me, it mirrors a notion of “she’s somone’s daughter” as a reason to not rape, if that makes sense. Those still center on the (male) human to give the earth or woman value. It seems like a version of ideal womanhood to me. But it’s such a popular concept and not easy to work through.

      • jeffreybarber says:

        Hi Matthew,
        I enjoyed your presentation on this film pointing out implications of this anthropocentric Spaceship Earth metaphor. One thing about Silent Running I could not stop thinking about was how humans could survive on earth without an ecosystem. How could air be artificially manufactured? For that matter, how could food be produced without some kind of organic foundation? This point weakened the story for me. I think it would have made more sense to instead have a completely mechanical earth replacing humans as well as other organic lifeforms, keeping a small token sample of humans alive for scientific or aesthetic reasons. The argument would then be between the archaic organic anomaly and the dominant inorganic/mechanical AI lifeforms. Instead of having Lowell go berserker killing off three of this fellow (granted rather insensitive) humans, he could have taken on three insensitive androids. The initial argument could be between the overly rationalistic AI (as Agent Smith’s critique of humans in the Matrix, that humans were addicted to war and cruelty, had the ability to create utopia but blew it, as they did in Octavia Butler’s Dawn). Instead, Lowell comes off as a tree-hugger psychopath, not a defender of life as much as an unsympathetic introvert/misanthrope cooped up too long with three men and no female influence. Not a very friendly environmentalist portrait.

    • AnneSchmalstig says:

      Thanks for your great presentation, and sorry for my delayed response—I’ve just finished a week at the Dartmouth Futures of American Studies, which was rewarding but packed full of lectures and workshops. I really like your idea of your ecocritical lens as “re-horror-ing” the horror of the film in its original context as a creature feature (with such an odd monster!). Thinking about your comment about my presentation as similar to Heise’s declensionist narratives, I think that’s partially what my reading of The Future is Wild is doing. On the one hand, climate change and human/non-human extinction haunts any narrative about the future, even if the narrative, as in TFIW, completely ignores it. On the other hand, sidestepping the horror of the future can be productive, in a way, to avoid falling into immobilizing despair. I think I started out doing a more ecohorror reading of TFIW, but I’m coming to find, despite the problems of not addressing Anthropocenic climate change, that the “documentary” makes the future of the planet less anthropocentric, more focused on the survival of strange new creatures, and that this can maybe be a good thing.

  2. joeheumann says:

    Thanks for that great creature feature update by connecting it to the present dilemma of the “Salton Sea.” More importantly, where did you get the super cool T Shirt?

    • bbarclay says:

      Hi Joe. I’ll send you a link on Facebook. It’s from a local artist, Don Picton whose Etsy store is Friend Prices. Such great stuff.

      • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

        Robin and I love the kind of work you are doing here. Radiation lasts pretty much forever and while Monster warns us of that, and also critiques the labor standards by allowing young scientists in the lab to do critical work the adults are too lazy to undertake, your connections to the Salton Sea creation and it’s own eco disaster in real time is really cool. Mike Davis has a lot to say about that in Ecology of Fear and a lot of his other works that focus on S California. Your work aligns well with that. Thanks for the analysis.

  3. bbarclay says:

    Hi All. This is Bridgitte Barclay. It took me a bit of looking through other panels today to think of how to post an initial comment here about my presentation.

    Just some notes and questions on mine… I’m fascinated with the trajectory of nineteenth-century western frontier to turn-of-the-century museum and species frontiers to mid-century space frontiers in American history. All of those are very much tied in with American identity. I find the number of sf-horror films in the mid-century era that resurrect/discover remaining pockets of prehistoric creatures are telling in terms of extinction fears. The Creature that Challenged the World is a part of that and so is Creature from the Black Lagoon and others I mention in the talk. I love these creature features so much and find them fascinating in terms of cultural artifacts that have new meaning today.

    Some questions I still have: What other films fit into this sf-horror sub-genre? How does re-reading these from an ecocritical perspective change their messages? How can they be used in the environmental humanities classroom? Why do some of us in environmental and gender studies find them so wonderful (what chord are they striking)? How is camp related here?

    • ehamner says:

      Hi Bridgitte. Very much enjoyed that, perhaps especially your juxtaposition of the film’s “saccharine” ending and the ongoing monster problems of both the Salton Sea locale and our global ecology.

      I’ll start with your first question. The first parallel sf-horror film I thought of is probably blatently obvious, and I’ve only watched your presentation once so far, so please forgive me if you mentioned it, but: Forbidden Planet (1956). Definitely plenty campy too, yet also frying larger fish
      than its only semi-visible monster.

      Eventually, we may want to ponder the gap(s) between your film and mine more fully, but another that came to mind even before you asked about comparisons is the relatively unknown (for some good reasons) 2010 sf-horror thriller Monsters. I had previously thought about it mainly for its thin-but-still effective immigration allegory, but your talk makes me wonder if/how it might also be concerned with ecological vulnerability and exploitation.

      Which suggests this subquestion: what occasions do these films offer to think about the relationship between ecological damage and consequences of other forms of injustice (racism, sexism, …)? What patterns do we see in how creators, monsters, victims, & rescuers are cinematically rendered, and to what extent are there meaningful shifts between, say, the 1950s and the 2010s?

      • Bridgitte Barclay, Aurora University says:

        Forbidden Planet! Yes!

        I haven’t watched Monsters but will now. It looks beautiful. Thanks for that recommendation and the Forbidden Planet reminder.

        And good subquestion. I think those connections among the various types of injustices should be inherent in ecocritical analyses, and often are. Coming to these films from a material ecocritical perspective and taking into account racism, sexism, heterosexism, ableism, etc. means that we at least analyze those texts in terms of interconnections. Not that the films necessarily address those issues explicitly or deliberately. But our readings might highlight them and point to divergent messages or to where resistance to dominant narratives opens up spaces for new readings or to where environmental and gender injustice is handled well but racial injustice isn’t. So, in my view, there may be sexism in a film that promotes a form of environmentalism, and something like a camp viewing can make the film subversive in a way. I get a lot of joy out of watching films that may be – as Carter points out – unintentional camp but that become resistant through a camp viewing, by camping them. I’m really interested in all of that right now…where we can laugh to disrupt. I’m interested, too, in your question about what patterns we see shifting over the decades. Certainly some of the 70s ecohorror explicitly sides with the “monster”/animal (as Christy has pointed out happens in 1972’s Frogs, for instance). I don’t think that happens in The Monster that Challenged the World, and it might be a stretch to read it that way. I’m really interested in what others see as the pattern, too.

        • ehamner says:

          I like your idea about viewing the not-necessarily-intentionally-camp through a camp lens. I hadn’t thought about doing that before, perhaps partially because I’ve focused more often a little closer to the present, where it’s far more likely that such texts have tongue planted firmly in cheek. E.g. … you know what might be a really fun text to place in this dialogue? The X-Files “Post-Modern Prometheus” episode that first aired 30 Nov 1997. That one’s just a delight in and of itself, but it might also provide a particularly rich juxtaposition with your earlier monster flicks.

          • ehamner says:

            Oh, and I’ve been meaning to add one other perhaps all-too-obvious text that leapt to mind the other day: Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1956). What does it mean that the clone-monsters created there are hatched out of plant-like incubators, even as the setting (contra The Monster That Challenged the World) is not desert-lake devastation, but post-WWII suburbia? I’ve primarily thought about Invasion as a cloning film, but you’ve made me ponder the ecological implications as well. That scene toward the end in an old railroad tunnel/mining area (?), for instance: why go underground there? (Just thinking aloud ….)

            • Bridgitte Barclay, Aurora University says:

              Nice calls. I’ll look at those again, for sure. I’m loving this conversation.

    • csoles says:

      I have a couple questions for Bridgitte, though I first want to note that I love your concept that analyzing creature features ecocritically “re-horrors the horror film.” That is a great idea, especially applied to a subgenre that, as you note, tends to end in “saccharine” and ideologically conservative ways. (It may also be a necessary operation for a subgenre and period that tend to viewed nowadays as unintentional camp.)

      I have been researching creature features myself and am often struck by how science and scientists are presented in these films — they often provide the solutions for monster invasions yet the implication is almost always that human “mad science” (you call it “scientific hubris or scientific ignorance”) is what creates / awakens these monsters in the first place. Can you speak to the depiction of scientists in these films in this light? Do these films suggest that scientists need the military around to bring them to heel? Are there “good scientists” and (often offscreen / implied) “bad scientists”?

      That is, who do these films really suggest can save us from these horrors?

      (I also love your question about the role of camp in our reception of these films, I am chewing that over but don’t have anything substantial to say yet.)

      • joeheumann says:

        We write about The Nest in Monstrous Nature. Check out the female scientist in it. She’s quite the proud mama when the cockroach creations start to chew off her hand. Very very unusual moment.

      • bbarclay says:

        Carter, thank you for the comments and questions. You’re exploring some of the same ideas that I’m exploring lately — creature features, camp, depictions of science. I’ve been thinking about the scientists in The Monster that Challenged the World and The Creature from the Black Lagoon Lately. They certainly aren’t as “mad” as the scientists from Wasp Woman and Mesa of Lost Women, or aren’t “mad” to the same degree. In Monster, specifically, the scientist is represented as pretty level headed. I’m not sure Dr. Rogers (I think I’m remembering his name right) is meant to be clearly seen as suffering from hubris. He mostly offers rationale for the premise. Rereading the unintentional camp (naive camp, I think Feil calls it) emphasizes the hubris.

        In Creature from the Black Lagoon that’s a bit different, right? There are scientists we are meant to read as good and rational and those we are meant to read as bad and irrational. From an ecocritical look, they are all problematic and suffer from hubris.

        So who can save us from the horrors? Great question. For me right now, it’s often the creatures (Creature from the Black Lagoon, Wasp Woman, and the womanimals in Mesa of Lost Women (those last two are the ones I write about for the gender and environment in sf text Christy, you, and me are working on right now)). But, in The Monster that Challenged the World, it’s not the monster. It’s the viewer seeing the horror, maybe?

    • Sara L. Crosby, The Ohio State University at Marion says:

      Hi Bridgitte! Have you seen The Last Winter? It’s a frontier (Alaska) narrative with a wendigo-like creature resurrected by global warming/ oil drilling. Maybe. Or they’re all just going mad. I wonder how a recent film like this compares rhetorically/ narratively with these older creature features? How has the extinction narrative been forced to change?

      Also, I can’t wait to see this movie! Thank you for a wonderful talk, as always!

      • Bridgitte Barclay, Aurora University says:

        Sara, I haven’t seen The Last Winter. I’ll watch it. Perhaps I should watch this and Blood Glacier now, during the summer. Winter in Chicagoland already feels like a horror film.

        • csoles says:

          I love The Last Winter, and Christopher Justice has a great essay called “Cooling the Geopolitical” analyzing it.

    • Miriam Tola, Northeastern University says:

      Hi Bridgitte,

      this is Miriam Tola, thank you for the rich presentation! I was drawn to it in part because of the Salton Sea location which I briefly touch on in my talk on Annie Sprinkle and Beth Stephens’s ecosexual documentary Water Makes Us Wet (see Panel 15).

      I have a couple of points/questions.

      First, your reflection on preservation projects in the Western frontier made me wonder about whether the rhetoric of preservation also involved the ‘extinction’ of indigenous populations that settler colonialism attempted to destroy.

      Second, I was fascinated by the figure of the child in the The Monster that Challenged the World. As Rebekah Sheldon notes in her book The Child to Come, “[f]rom the vantage of eco-catastrophe […] the child stands in the place of the species and coordinates its transit into the future.”

      What I find interesting here is that the child in The Monster plays an ambiguous role. She’s a figure of innocence but also inadvertently responsible for messing up with the water temperature and thus allowing the monster to reproduce. She stands in the place of the species that, in the dominant narrative of the Anthropocene, messed up with planetary processes. I wonder whether you’ve been thinking about the figure of the child in these terms and its role in connecting the monstrous past of the Salton Sea with its present as landscape of extinction.

      • Bridgitte Barclay, Aurora University says:


        Thank you for the questions. I’m not dealing with indigenous populations and extinction in my own research, but of course there is a good deal of this problem in museum studies. A number of museums used to (and some still do… I’m thinking of Milwaukee Public Museum, for example) have dioramas for indigenous populations alongside animal dioramas. The Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act (NAGPRA) has addressed some of that. It’s an interesting area of study, but outside of what I’m currently doing. Do you have suggested reading?

        The child certainly has an interesting role in sf horror in general, and in Monster, this character is also the go-to between the humans and the animals. She has an interesting scene showing the grumpy all-business protag her lady bug, which allows us to see his softer side and for he and his love interest to connect. And, the child is the one who shows care for the rabbits and then is attacked by this prehistoric animal. And she sort of cements the saccharine end to be more than just a hetero end. It’s a full blown ready-made family (the female lead is a war widow). There is some cool stuff there to look at.

  4. ehamner says:

    Hi everyone. I ended my talk with a slide featuring some of the additional questions I’ve been pondering, and I’d welcome versions of those or most any other question.

    But here are a couple more curiosities I’ll add that may be better to start with:

    (1) Had you seen mother! before viewing my opening clip? If so, what were your initial reactions to the film, and have they shifted at all since then? If not, does this scene attract, repel, bore, overwhelm you?

    (2) What have been your experiences of Christian or other religious responses to climate change?

    • bbarclay says:

      Hi Everett. You pose great questions for your talk. I have a question about one of yours above in the first comment, and to answer your questions here… 1) I have been avoiding mother! because of the “mother nature” and the scene you open with (had heard tell and read about it). You sort of ripped the bandaid off for me. It repelled and overwhelmed me. Good words. I also find myself kind of angry in part b/c of the gendered issues. I understand the goal, but I’m grappling with the graphic and disturbing approach used by a man in telling this. And I’m imagining the impact of a similar approach by any other dominant group telling a story of a different marginalized community in such a graphic way. Real violence is committed against women, and children daily, hourly, by the minute, so it’s less symbolic to those communities. I had a visceral, physical negative reaction to it while also understanding the goal and message. But I generally don’t watch contemporary horror, either. So, there’s that. I’d be interested in Christy Tidwell’s response since she writes more about contemporary ecohorror.

      2) This is a big question. Like many of us, I teach a number of students who associate environmentalism with liberalism and pit that against their own conservatism and their association of it with Christianity.

      Great questions and I’m really interested in the conversation here and your take on the gendered issues.

      • ehamner says:

        I can certainly empathize with that “visceral, physical negative reaction,” even if I would emphasize that it comes from a privileged position as a white middle-class cis male (basically if there’s an identity category, I check the boring box). But I’ve watched the film a number of times now, and it has definitely not lost that effect for me, either … which is part of why I’ve come to care so much about it. I felt similarly decades ago when I first read “A Good Man is Hard to Find.”

        I think the question of whether the film is worth what it costs us as viewers — and in this case, as feminist viewers (though I certainly do not wish to speak for you or any other woman) — depends very, very heavily on whether we understand the whole as *content* with gendering nature as female (and implicitly the female as the materialized, acted-upon receptor of male, spiritualized, abstracted violence) or as an intense critique of the very sexism (and ecological exploitation) it figures. Or it may be that for some viewers, it is *both*: that it contradicts its endgame (if the latter critique is granted at some level) with its methodology.

        My reading is that this film is not only holding up a mirror to its audience, but to its creator (to the extent that auteur theory allows us to call it one man’s work of art, which of course is partially true and partially false). But I do not see Aronofsky as at all exempt from the film’s intensive critique of patriarchal and ecological violence; on the contrary, I think the work is profoundly aware and interested in making us aware that Bardem’s divine poet character epitomizes mansplaining, self-absorption, condescension–in short, the worst tendencies of a supposedly liberal male’s narcissism–long before the climactic violence to which it subjects us. This film is going far beyond confronting MAGA Trumpism; it is pointing fingers at its viewers and its creators, saying we are all complicit in a culture that systematically exploits both human marginalized communities and other species.

        And that is to say little yet of how much this character is a direct indictment of a pervasive vision of the Christian God. But I’ll pause here with gratitude for the opportunity to articulate this much. I’ll definitely be thinking about it more, especially the real possibility that the film’s means may for some counteract or otherwise obscure (my view of) its end. If you do decide to watch it sooner or later, I will be very curious about how the more gradual buildup to this horrific scene shapes your response. And I look forward to Christy’s thoughts, too! There definitely should be some cross-panel conversation here, e.g. with panel 1 ….

        • bbarclay says:

          Everett, thank you for such a thoughtful response. You make some great points. I like your comparison to Flannery O’Connor. And your questions about whether the film is worth what it costs us and if the portrayals are meant as critique of those associations or are more complicated — if it “contradicts its endgame […] with its methodology,” as you say. And, it sounds like it might be worth me watching it fully at least once. Like The Handmaid’s Tale series, I know a lot of women who just can’t watch that or Mother! in our current culture. The anticipation/terror might be worse than the horror of it, though. Thank you for such great insights and openness.

          • ehamner says:

            The Handmaid’s Tale series is a *very* apt comparison. A close friend of mine simply had to stop after 6 episodes–it was just too much, and like you said, it was the anticipation as much as the experience of watching itself.

            • bbarclay says:

              I am a devoted fan of the series, but I think it may be a very similar hesitation on the part of many women. The news and the show are just a bit too similar.

                • AnneSchmalstig says:

                  Same – I read Handmaid’s Tale years ago and have been disturbed by its closeness to reality ever since, and so haven’t watched the show. I didn’t have the same reaction to the first scene of mother!, exactly, although I imagine if the rest of the film is repeated attacks on “mother nature,” I would be grappling with wanting to see how the rest of the film critiques human abuse of nature/male abuse of women, and wanting to find a less visceral, as you all noted, way to perform this critique.

                  • Everett Hamner, Western Illinois University says:

                    If you meant the scene that I included in my talk, Anne, that comes pretty late in the film; there’s a gradual buildup to that level of intensity. And yeah, I think the whole film really is such a critique, but as I said, it’s not for everyone, and if someone doesn’t buy that the film is highly aware of and deeply invested in exposing the sexism it represents, I can certainly understand how its effect would be very different.

                    No worries about being busy last week! The Dartmouth Futures opportunity was very good for me more than decade ago too. And BTW, I liked your verb “coming to find” in the comment above about your evolving reading of TFIW. Call me jaded, but I wish it were more common for our scholarly species to make arguments intensively, but then step back, listen, and be ready to change our minds. Dare I suggest that this is something more humanists might learn from healthy scientific methodologies? I haven’t seen TFIW yet–but you’ve made me curious–and don’t mean to necessarily affirm any specific position about its significance or impact; just wanted to express my appreciation for that.

        • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

          I wish I had more thoughts to provide here! I enjoyed your talk, Everett, and found your connections between this film, religion, and climate change fascinating. However, I haven’t seen the film in its entirety, so I’m not sure how my reaction to the brief clip you began with might fit into the rest of the experience. This addresses your first question in your initial comment – having not seen the movie before and also having avoided knowing much about it *because* I hadn’t seen it yet, I had no idea what to expect. This was not as bad as I’d expected from the hype, although I did find it hard to watch. I suspect it would be even harder to watch in its larger context, with some absorption into the film and engagement with the characters. Coming to this as someone who watches more contemporary horror, though, this doesn’t seem any worse than what I’ve seen elsewhere recently, honestly, either in terms of its violence or in terms of its gendered assumptions.

          If I have time to watch the film before the conference ends, I’ll revisit your talk and hope to come back with more thoughtful responses.

          • ehamner says:

            I’d love to hear what you experienced and thought if you’re able to fit in that viewing, Christy, even if it has to be after the conference!

        • Bridgitte Barclay, Aurora University says:

          I just watched Alexa Weik von Mossner plenary talk, and her approach to horror (bystander) and terror (fear for ourselves) is interesting in terms of this discussion.

          • AnneSchmalstig says:

            That’s fascinating – I haven’t watched her talk yet, but when I began my dissertation work I was getting into the eco-Gothic, and reading Ann Radcliffe. I’ve thought a lot about the distinction she makes in an essay called “On the Supernatural in Poetry” between horror (actually seeing the thing that scares you) and terror (hearing or sensing but not knowing what’s scaring you).

    • joeheumann says:

      Robin and I have seen Mother and reviewed it in this year’s edition of JumpCut.
      As to your second question, we found that WALL-E produced really positive responses from “Christian film critics,” and cite them in our work on that film.

    • Miriam Tola, Northeastern University says:

      Hi Everett,

      I really enjoyed your presentation, the nuanced reading of American Christianity and climate action and the ways in which you direct attention the commodity economy.

      Here a few thoughts that might help us in the conversation. Theology and economy are not separate issues. Francis’s ecology in the Middle Ages was very much about renouncing property and practice ‘common use’. I wonder whether the question of property comes up in Mother!

      You reading seem to be consistent with Aronofsky’s statement, “I think [the planet’s] being undone by humanity. I don’t blame one gender over the other gender. I think it is about how people are insatiable, how there’s this endless consumption” (The Hollywood Reporter).

      Yet, like Bridgitte, I am perplexed by how the movie mobilizes the trope of Mother Earth even in the ecofeminist version suggested by the use of Solnit’s poem. Although this point would deserve closer analysis, it made me think about Pope Francis’s Laudato Si.

      in this document Francis likens the earth, to “a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us”. Mary is identified as the one who “cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world.” Even as the encyclical provides a striking abjure of the human as the owner and master of nature, it retains the link between the feminine, the fragile earth and the maternal figure of Mary, called to perform the labor of reproduction and care. I expand on this point in a forthcoming chapter on the trope of Mother Earth on which my talk on Panel 15 is based on.

      • ehamner says:

        Hi Miriam–and also Joe and Robin, whose very insightful articles on mother! and WALL-E I just found time to read over at Jump Cut,

        Thanks so much to all of you for these comments. They are SUPER helpful for me in better understanding how mother! has been understood and how my argument about it may be understood. Like Miriam’s presentation over on panel 15, this is a draft of something longer for me, so that is enormously appreciated.

        At the risk of being annoyingly repetitive, I want to come back to what I said on June 15 (6:37 am response to Bridgitte above): that how we interpret *mother!* “depends very, very heavily on whether we understand the whole as *content* with gendering nature as female (and implicitly the female as the materialized, acted-upon receptor of male, spiritualized, abstracted violence).”

        One interpretive option is the approach of Robin & Joe’s very well-evidenced piece. As they said in their first paragraph, they went in to *mother!* hoping for a climate change commentary. Yet “[w]hat we found instead was a visually appealing homage to the 1960s avant-garde that presents women, their bodies, and a feminized earth as replaceable and interchangeable, like the parts of a mass-produced rifle.”

        I *thoroughly* agree with Robin & Joe both that Aronofsky is working with those 60s films and that *mother!* is intensely interested in the presentation of “women, their bodies, and a feminized earth as replaceable and interchangeable.” And I absolutely love Miriam’s connection between Pope Francis’s *Laudato Si* and *mother!*, with both linking “the feminine, the fragile earth and the maternal figure of Mary, called to perform the labor of reproduction and care.”

        Where my interpretation substantially differs, though, is in claiming that unlike *Laudato Si*, *mother!* is actually interested in indicting this very pattern. While open to the possibility that I am giving Aronofsky, his team, and the film too much credit, and/or that my attention to Aronofsky’s treatments of gender in his other work is playing too heavy a role, I really appreciate being pushed to argue this central point more extensively.

        My reading of the film as *dystopian* ecohorror–as exposé of contemporary dynamics rather than either an idealized vision or just a complaint about them that is willing to say, “well, this is just how it is”–involves paying attention to the same textual elements that Robin & Joe so carefully enumerate. Yet their significance is for me very different, because I am crediting the film with consciously critiquing this pattern of identifying the earth with the feminine and the maternal.

        Why? I may need considerably greater space to fully defend my instinct here, and I can very easily understand how others would not share it–perhaps especially those who find the film difficult/impossible to watch because of how intensely it represents sexual and emotional violence. And like I mentioned, my take is undoubtedly affected by what I know of Aronofsky from other contexts, especially his treatments of masculinity in *The Wrestler* and femininity in *Black Swan.* But I’ll just point to one element for the moment that is suggestive for me, and that will also pick up on my chat with Christy (over on panel 1) in its interest in narrative spirals.

        I love this section of Robin & Joe’s penultimate paragraph and the scenes in the film that it references: “Eagerly Him even shares their newborn son with the mob, perhaps because he knows another woman will fix the mess and call him ‘Baby.’ The only way Mother can cope with such intense pain is immolation. In the end, Mother gives us the environmental message we crave: ‘You never loved me. You just loved how much I loved you. I gave you everything, and you gave it all away.'” Yes! Him wants to be the baby, coddled not by an actual partner but by a wife-cum-replacement-mother.

        Where my interpretation is distinct, though, is in taking the new Mother’s “Baby?” at the film’s conclusion as a question to us all. Rather than stopping with completing a circular narrative and bringing us back only to where we began (with the scenes of destruction and Mother’s consumption by the flames), the film spirals onward, offering us repetition with difference. Crucially, is not the same woman who awakens to find her divine poet-husband absent; while clearly *Him* intends to exploit her in the same way that he did Jennifer Lawrence’s Mother, we *as audience* are being asked a different question: do we see the problem here? Will *we* participate in that exploitation? Do we recognize the horror in this seemingly endless gendering of nature, this consumption of the female as natural resource, this attempt of the supposedly liberal, gentle, respectful male to infantilize his wife (possessive pronoun quite intended here)? Are we able and willing to turn a closed circle into an open-ended spiral?

        Miriam, you also asked about how *mother!* deals with property, wisely insisting that theology and economics be considered together. Yes, definitely, the film is very interested in how many people claim to be capitalists who respect property rights, but at the same time refuse to assign a monetary value to resources that we pretend are infinite. Lawrence’s Mother repeatedly says things like, “you can’t come in here” and “that’s not yours,” expressing confusion and rage that her objections are not taken as self-evident. I take these moments to allude to capitalist mythmaking about a purportedly inexhaustible commons, like Nestlé’s claim that it hasn’t even come close to taking as much water from the San Bernardino National Forest as it has water rights to, and as if such taking should bear no economic cost whatsoever. (I grew up there, and this kind of exploitation has an extremely long and contentious history that deserves greater attention not just from scientists and public lands experts, but also ecocritics. E.g. I found only a single article on the MLAB so far about Paolo Bacigalupi’s *The Water Knife*–by one of this symposium’s keynote speakers, Alexa Weik von Mossner.) In short: I’ll think be thinking more about this angle too, and thank you again!

        • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

          Hi ehamner:
          As we point out in our critique of mother!, Aronofsky was just as skilled in making a mega epic about Noah, so he easily is able to skate between the large scale religious epic and the small scale one. That’s no mean feat. But we both giggled when the new “mother” was another super hot, super flawless white woman. We understand the wide range of critical responses that there can be at this moment, but the iconic power the image represents was enough for us.

          As to water and water rights and film eco-criticism: We have published extensively on this area if you are interested in it. We deal with water and water rights issues in two chapters of our Ecology and Popular Film: Cinema on the Edge. We deal with water toxicity issues in a chapter from That’s All Folks? Eco-Critical Readings of American Animated Features titled: The Simpsons Movie, Happy Feet and Avatar. We’re obsessed with water in our Gunfight at the Eco-Corral, with one chapter titled Is Water A Right? The Ballad of Cable Hogue and Environmental Law. In Film and Everyday Eco-Disasters we have a chapter, James Bond and Water Wars in Contemporary Film, but much of the book also focuses on water rights issues. We deal with water pollution in Monstrous Nature by looking at The Bay and Poisoned Waters in a chapter Parasite Evolution in the Eco-Horror Film. And we try to deal with LA turning their eponymous river into a concrete water drain in a chapter The City, The Sewers, The Underground:Reconstructing Urban Space in Film Noir.
          Basically, we have been spending more than 15 years examining how films represent water issues and we are eager to see other scholars take on these issues, too. There is nothing more difficult than trying to understand the fact that there are 50 states with 50 separate legal theories about water issues. We have seen what Nestle’s does from state to state. I believe they have recently lost their rights to the San Bernadino area due to a new legal state interpretation revolving around their permit. We really have a special concern over theories of water use and the philosophical/economic issues of fair use vs sustainable use.

          • Everett Hamner, Western Illinois University says:

            Thanks so much for the great mini-bibliography, Joseph, and I’ll look forward to learning more from your and Robin’s work in this area. I was merely surprised that a novel as significant as Bacigalupi’s hadn’t gotten more attention yet; apologies that I sounded as if I thought nothing had been done on water by ecocritics. Just wanted to encourage more, as the urgency is growing more and more apparent even to someone who hasn’t focused there with anything like the attention you have. Much appreciated–and I meant to say earlier that your WALL-E review also made me want to go back and re-watch that.

            • Joseph Heumann, Eastern Illinois University says:

              Hi Everett:
              Water issues concern us all the time and we exhort fellow critics to examine these issues from as many angles as possible. Things are only going to get more complicated. We can’t seem to escape these concerns in all of the books we have written. They are there as one of the key basic needs. The complex history of water laws in the USA usually stops people cold. I don’t know how many times we have had to explain to people who justifiably complain about Nestle’s use of water, in a number of states, is that every state has it’s own laws and these laws have been developed over the past 250 years in terms of legal theories that have depended on riparian, appropriative concepts or a combination of the two. Except for Texas, which relies on theories drawn from English Common Law that date back to the 16th and 17th centuries. And none of the above includes First Nation concepts of water that were kicked to the curb by the successful colonists. It’s one of the few areas where Federal Laws are written. To define water use in relationship to “Indian Reservations.”

              Pale Rider kick started this concern for us, as it focused on hydro cannons destroying the landscape for gold in California and concepts of navigable water. Eastwood’s own comments about this film led us to examine Montana’s rewriting of their constitution in 1970 that enshrined the peoples rights to use navigable waters whether or not they run through private property. Westerns are where a lot of these things are examined, in novels, poetry. history, and films, including Rango. It’s everywhere, because “whiskey is for drinking and water is for fighting.”

  5. csoles says:

    For Matthew: I enjoyed your presentation (including the outdoor setting!) and I very much like your notion of the “spaceship Earth” concept as an iteration of the cyborg metaphor. I wonder of you have connected this in any way to the idea of the simulacrum, of simulations of nature, such as those described by Robin Murray and Joe Heumann in their analysis of Soylent Green in Chapter 5 of Ecology and Popular Film or theorized by N. Katherine Hayles in her “Simulated Nature” essay in Uncommon Grounds (Ed. William Cronon, Norton 1995)? My apologies if this is tangential to your work but this is what I was thinking about as you were describing the “inverted metaphor” of the geodesic dome on the Valley Forge at about the seven-minute mark of your talk.

    Regarding cyborgs specifically, I love your discussion of the drones in Silent Running and your comments about how the non-human world is used to bolster imperialist (white, male) narratives. Yet can you elaborate upon the racial dimensions of the figure of the cyborg in this film? I am really interested in questions of race and ethnicity in science fiction and have found Leilani Nishime’s article “The Mulatto Cyborg” (Cinema Journal 44.2, Winter 2005, pp. 34-49) to be invaluable. Her essay is well-known in film studies circles (so you may already know it) but maybe less well appreciated in ecocritical circles at present. My recollection is that Silent Running features only white men aboard the Valley Forge, yes? How is the (inherently paradoxical) “spaceship Earth” metaphor raced in this film and other related media? Are the drones seen as non-whites?

    Along this line, I think there are productive connections to be made between your presentation and Michelle Yates’ analysis of Interstellar in Panel 6.

    Thanks again for a great talk — I never knew the bit about Dow Chemical’s product placement deal.

    • ehamner says:

      Matthew, I want to start by echoing this comment’s last line particularly: I’m fascinated by those kinds of collisions between media production decisions–the means–and various seemingly intended outcomes–the ends. The notion that this film came to be only through the contributions of a/the primary producer of DDT and Agent Orange is all too remindful of how Big Oil today seeks PR today for very selective funding of environmental efforts–even as it buries thousands of cooling tubes in the Arctic permafrost so that it can drill for oil just a bit longer.

      One other thought for you presently: do you enjoy “generation starship” novels? I’d be especially curious about what a juxtaposition of *Silent Running* with such recent texts as Le Guin’s “Paradises Lost” (in *The Birthday of the World*) and Robinson’s *Aurora* might yield. Are these tales offering the inverse of the “spaceship Earth” trope that you detail, in that instead of silently fusing the natural and the technological in the form of a newly controllable planet, they follow *SR* in simulating and/or transporting the earthly within an artificially constructed space? And where do they break down the purported binary in the process?

      • Matthew Thompson, University of Toronto says:

        Hi Everette,

        I haven’t read Paradises Lost (though I am a big Le Guin fan) or Aurora. However, the models created for the exterior shots of the Valley Forge were re-purposed by Trumbull for a Canadian TV series called The Starlost. The Starlost was conceived by Harlan Ellison and deals with a multi-generational voyage to a new planet. The show takes place on the Earthship Ark which is made up of many discrete biodomes each housing a different ecosystem and human culture, shut off from all of the others. The inhabitants of one of the domes (a pastoral, religious community of farmers) are the focus of the show. The farmers have been on board the ship for so long, without any outside contact, that they no longer understand that they are on board a ship at all. They believe that their dome is the entire world. This presents an excellent example of the trope of Spaceship Earth after it has degraded from metaphor into perceived truth. I think that, like Dewey in the dome at the end of Silent Running, generation starship narratives have the potential to demonstrate the interwoven nature of the environment and technology. As you say, the Earthship Ark breaks down the binary that Spaceship Earth initially sets out between nature and technology.

        Thanks for your thoughts!

    • Matthew Thompson, University of Toronto says:

      Hi Carter,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I hadn’t thought to connect the idea of Spaceship Earth to nature simulations/simulacra as they are discussed in those two chapters. I’ll have to reread those essays with this paper in mind. In a longer version of this paper I do, however, try to work out the connections between the artificial and controlled environment of the Valley Forge and the film set which was used to create it. Studio architecture (especially that of early studios like the Black Maria) is designed to manage environmental conditions, excluding wind and rain while admitting sunlight, for example. In this way the film studio, and by extension, the cinema, participate in the fantasy of environmental control (and simulation) through technological containment.

      As for race in Silent Running and Spaceship Earth, I think you make an excellent point. The absence of anyone but white men on the ship indicates the film’s participation in colonial narratives of space exploration. I have not read “The Mulatto Cyborg,” but it sounds like it will be very helpful for my research. I’m not sure that I would read the Drones as non-white, but I do think that the film’s premise that earth is a stable 75 degrees everywhere with no nonhuman life indicates an almost certain period of environmental injustice in the narrative’s past. The crew members argue that the humans on the dead planet are doing well (apparently there is no unemployment or hunger). However, it is hard to imagine the death of all nonhuman ecosystems not having a devastating effect on marginalized and impoverished people world-wide. Perhaps only the affluent, mostly white population survived the eco-apocalypse and this is why there are only white people aboard the Valley Forge.

  6. dreadfulbard says:

    Hi Everett, this is Anthony Lioi. Thanks for your provocative analysis of mother!, which I still have not seen. You showed us enough for me to form this question, though: Can the grotesque as an aesthetic really be used to Franciscan ends? I found the cannibalism scene trenchant as a representation of the consumption of the future of today’s children, but it’s just a parody of cosmic sacramentality in the Franciscan tradition. But I feel like I shouldn’t make that judgment without seeing the rest of the film. So my question, in other words, is: How does the film aesthetically advance the kind of religion represented by Solnit’s prayer? Or is it a warning that we need to revise religious practices as she does, lest we arrive at an O’Connor story that has swallowed the whole planet? I’m really interested in the way we get from aesthetics to ethics here.

    • ehamner says:

      Anthony, these are absolutely fabulous questions, and much appreciated! I particularly love your image of the Anthropocene as “an O’Connor story that has swallowed the whole planet.”

      You’re right, a grotesque aesthetic and a Franciscan ethic indeed feel a long way apart! The first is an in-your-face scream; the second connotes peacefulness and gentleness. But yes, that’s very much my argument—that at least for some viewers, the former might enable the latter, especially when it comes to inspiring just responses to climate change and patriarchy.

      That is only possible, though, if we recognize *mother!*’s employment of the grotesque as *dystopian* ecohorror—as a foil, not some kind of perverse prognosis. If we take Aronofsky’s film merely to condone or assume the inevitability of what it represents (our present direction as a culture), then I think the answer to your question has to be “no way”—this case of the grotesque does not lead toward any kind of just ethic. But if we interpret *mother!* as a hard look in the mirror, as much for its makers as its audience, then I think the sacrament-as-cannibalism scene and the film as a whole become a powerful collective indictment, one that very well could lead viewers toward the kind of peacefulness, gratitude, and responsibility embodied by Francis and voiced by Solnit’s poem. Instead of surrendering again and again to “the hungers of the glutted” and “wanton consumption” of a biosphere and a “bounty” that is indeed “finite,” we might learn a little temperance, a little self-restraint, a little long-term planning.

      But what I love especially about your questions is the way they help me put my finger on a Girardian dynamic at play here that I didn’t articulate in the talk. I have long been convinced by Girard’s insight that the scapegoat and the messiah routinely function psychologically and anthropologically as two sides of the same coin: that whether we are denigrating an agreed-upon victim or elevating an agreed-upon savior, we are all too often motivated by the desire *to be excused from action ourselves.* I see that occurring particularly in this horrific take on Christian communion/Mass/the Lord’s Supper: what in the Gospel narratives is a *shared full meal* (involving real sustenance for all) has become in Aronofsky’s dystopian ecohorror film a parody of community, a merely magical ritual that works only to divide—act somber, but grab what you can and run! And quite frankly, I think the film is pointing a finger straight at what actually occurs in far too many Christian eucharist celebrations: instead of inspiring gratitude, and then acts of generosity out of that gratitude, the experience is highly individualistic, replacing the need to change one’s life with something more akin to self-righteousness. The child consumed becomes only one more excuse for avoiding ecological responsibility and climate action; instead, the film shows us how that delusory mechanism functions, not to condone it, but to *expose* it. And that can be a crucial step toward awakening people to paths more like Francis’s and less like those of “Him” and many other exploitative, narcissistic, sexist characters presented here.

      Again, that won’t be true for all audiences. Some viewers will be turned off by the Biblical references and theologically attuned critique, while others (as noted elsewhere in this panel discussion) will quite understandably find the misogynous horrors too costly to watch. But for other audiences, I think *mother!* could prove among the most trenchant critiques to date–filmic, literary, or otherwise–of our selective blindness toward our larger ecology and the full humanity of women.

      As for how the film would have us revise religious practice, I can only begin to respond here, but I’ll say this much: whatever those who claim to follow Jesus of Nazareth do, it should reflect far more of Mother’s generosity of spirit and far less of Him’s self-absorption. What does that look like when you put hands and feet on it? That will vary, but I think people like Katharine Hayhoe and Pope Francis offer some pretty compelling suggestions. From my angle, American Christians need not reject the Lord’s Prayer, but many would do well to reimagine it alongside Solnit’s adaptation.

  7. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Bridgitte, Thank you for your intriguing presentation. Like Carter, I appreciated your assertion that analyzing creature features ecocritically “re-horrors the horror film.” I was especially pleased to hear *The Monster That Challenged the World* was written by female screenwriter Pat Fielder. We’re most familiar with her Westerns (film and television) and appreciated your recognizing her work on “The Monster…” You connect the film well with McKibbin’s assertions about the 6th extinction. Thank you for your links to *The Accidental Sea* and “The Useless Sea*. They brought to mind Nikolaus Geyrhalter’s *Homo sapiens* (2016) and parts of Agnes Varda and JR’s *Faces Places*. The film leaves me wondering if E.O. Wilson’s “Half-Earth” hypothesis might be a good idea. On another note, you highlighted your affinity for frontier studies and wondered if you had seen the cannibal horror films *Ravenous* and *Trouble Every Day*, which explicitly address consequences of Colonization and species exploitation. Nice work.

    • Bridgitte Barclay, Aurora University says:

      Hi Robin. Thank you. I have seen Ravenous but should rewatch it. I haven’t seen Trouble Every Day. I’ll put in on my watch list. Westworld is dealing with all of this in fascinating ways, too. Thank you for the recommendations. Pat Fielder is intriguing.

  8. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Matt, Thank you for your exploration of the metaphor of spaceship earth. *Silent Running* offers apt examples for you. We (Joe and I) watched a rather odd (French, Belgian, and Canadian) animated film with a last tree preserved in a dome museum, *April and the Extraordinary World* (2015). BTW, even the Chai Jing documentary *Under the Dome* draws on this metaphor–a moving one, for sure.

    • Matthew Thompson, University of Toronto says:

      Hi Robin, thanks for those suggestions. I haven’t watched either and they both look excellent. In a longer version of the essay I do spend some time looking into other sf texts involving domes and Spaceship Earth-style environmental politics such as Logan’s Run and Zardoz, as well as the Canadian TV series The Starlost.

  9. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Everett, Your reading of Mother! as a Biblical Adaptation for the Anthropocene reminded me of B.J. Gudmundsson’s Christians for the Mountains’ documentaries attacking Mountaintop Removal Mining (MTR). See, for example, *Mountain Mourning*, “Look What They’ve Done,” “Keeper of the Mountains,” and *Rise Up, West Virginia!* Her documentaries are available through Patchwork Films and demonstrate the distribution struggles Independent filmmakers battle, while also offering a view from the “inside” that draws locals to the issue. Are their Christian Climate Change documentaries or fictional films you see effectively moving even small audiences to action?

    • ehamner says:

      Those look like compelling treatments of mountaintop removal–thanks for the reference, as I hadn’t encountered these documentaries before. While the clips on the Patchwork website won’t play for me, the descriptions remind me a lot (in turn) of ch 3 in Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco’s brilliant nonfiction essay-comic book mashup, *Days of Destruction, Days of Revolt*, which focuses on Welch, West Virginia.

      As for Christian climate change documentaries or feature films, I suppose that depends on how far one is willing to stretch the limits of the adjective. (Inspired by postsecular theory, I tend to question simple binaries about what counts as religious or secular, and I’m always interested in who gets to decide, and what geographical, temporal, and denominational assumptions get made. But to answer more directly, the first few things that jump to mind are:

      1) The roughly one-third of the pilot of Showtime’s *Years of Living Dangerously* that focuses on evangelical climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe.

      2) An independent, recent, little-known documentary about the life of Loren Wilkinson, one of the first and most enduring evangelical voices for “creation care”. It’s entitled *Making Peace with Creation* and is available via Regent College’s bookstore in Vancouver, BC.

      3) Another very unusual independent documentary about Margaret Atwood’s book tour for a novel called *In the Wake of the Flood* (2009). The events featured therein largely occur at Anglican and other mainline Christian churches across the UK, US, & Canada.

      I’d guess #2 is probably closest to the documentaries you shared, but I thought the others worth mentioning, too. Hope this helps.

  10. rlmurray50 says:

    Hi Anne, Thank you for introducing us to *The Future is Wild*, *The World Without Us*, *Learning to Die in the Anthropocene* and *The Mushroom at the End of the World. Unfortunately, I could not hear your talk. I’ll try to read some of the captions to get a feel for your argument about “The Future of Wild.” The idea of “speculative evolution” sounds intriguing.

    • AnneSchmalstig says:

      Thanks for watching! On my computer you have to turn the volume all the way up to hear it, sorry about that! There are a lot of speculative evolution books and “documentaries,” mostly coming about about 10-15 years ago: e.g. several books by Dougal Dixon: After Man: A Zoology of the Future (1981), The New Dinosaurs: An Alternative Evolution (1984), and Man After Man: An Anthropology of the Future (1990); Peter Ward’s book Future Evolution: An Illuminating History of Life to Come (2001); and the History Channel’s “thought experiment” documentary series Life After People (2008), whose premise is nearly identical to that of The World Without Us (2007).

      • Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

        I was going to ask, Anne, if you were familiar with Dougal Dixon’s work (I figured you would be, but just in case!). Another I’d recommend, if you aren’t already familiar with it is All Yesterdays by John Conway, C. M. Kosemen, and Darren Naish. It’s mostly about paleoart, but it has some very interesting reflections on how we understand and represent other species visually, including how future individuals might look back at species we know now and try to understand them through what remains.

  11. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Bridgitte, I love your presentation. The images you included of the Salton Sea are so striking and really drive home the point you’re making about the horror of that setting. I had a couple of questions or observations for you.

    First, for a more recent film that raises some similar issues, you should watch Blood Glacier (2013, dir. Marvin Kren). It’s not a good film, but I quite enjoyed it. I was reminded of it by your description of the prehistoric mollusk monster arising as a result of human action, even though unintentional, and your comment that Fielder found inspiration in real life events for this. Blood Glacier can be similarly connected to recent articles about viruses trapped in permafrost being released as a result of climate change. Related to one of your questions in your opening comment, I did teach Blood Glacier a couple of semesters ago, too. Students had a hard time dealing with its ridiculousness at times (and the fact that it’s a German – or Austrian? – film), but it did help start some interesting discussions about the kinds of stories we might tell about climate change and its effects.

    Second, I was particularly struck by not only the female screenwriter for the film but that the sf writers you mentioned who deal with similar issues also being women: Merril, Emshwiller, Brackett. What – if anything – does this pattern say about possible connections between these concerns for victims of nuclear technology and gender? Or about female authorship and expected concerns or focuses for women writers?

    Finally, no question here, but I loved the part about the scientist taking the kraken egg to the lab and what happens there. The action in Night of the Lepus gets started by a kid running loose in a lab and doing something she shouldn’t, too. And the scientist’s idea that the egg can’t hatch because it’s at just the right temperature reminded me of Jurassic Park and their insistence that the dinosaurs can’t possibly breed because they’re all female. (Silly scientists.)

    • Bridgitte Barclay, Aurora University says:

      Why thank you, Christy. Those Salton Sea images are pretty astounding. It’s a mere eight-hour drive from UC Davis, so perhaps we need an ASLE trip there.

      I will definitely check out Blood Glacier.

      And there are a good amount of women writing in sf during this era about environmental issues. There is a good body of work on women writing about social impacts of technology, as you know, especially atomic testing (Patrick B. Sharp, Lisa Yaszek, Brian Attebery, etc.), and a good amount of that can be read as ecocritical even if that wasn’t the primary concern, I think. Leigh Brackett’s The Long Tomorrow (1955) is post-nuclear-apocalyptic with communities of anti-tech New Mennonites, Carol Emshwiller’s “Day at the Beach” (1959) is post-nuclear-apocalyptic with a mutant/feral child, Judith Merril’s Shadow on the Hearth (1950) and “That Only a Mother” (1948) both have post-nuclear warfare settings and deal with the domestic as political.

      It’s certainly not only a topic addressed by women and what male (generally) editors chose to publish from female writers is presumably at play here (Patrick B. Sharp’s recent Darwinian Feminism and Early Science Fiction has a great chapter on this), there were women’s activist communities dealing with this, as well. Congress of American Women (1946-50) and Women Strike for Peace (founded in the 1960s) were both sort of citizen science groups focused on children’s health and atomic testing.
      And good points about Night of the Lepus and Jurassic Park. And I just watched Annihilation last night after reading it earlier this year, and there’s something to it there, as well. Hubris and hopelessness? And, of course, that is gendered, as well, though it doesn’t draw attention to it, I think.

  12. Mtrono says:

    Matthew Thompson, thank you for presenting on Silent Running. If I may make it about me for a moment, I was always hesitant to re-visit the film because in 1972 when it came out I was 10-years-old and was very upset by the film’s ending and required several days of consolation from my mother. Who knows why exactly but I know I LOVED the droids, if for no other reason than they are presented as childlike in the film so are a point of easy identification for a kid. So when one dies alongside Lowell, when Lowell chooses a strategic suicide, and when the other is left forever alone in the void of space at the end, inside nature and human techne but with no meaningful narrative for its existence or anyone to turn to? It was a real gut-punch for me (still is), after the already intense experience of 2001: A Space Odyssey. (My mom got me into theatres for movies she wanted to see, whatever the rating, different days then and she knew the theatre owner.) So I wanted to say thank you personally and professionally for eco-critically framing and contextualizing the film’s images for us all. Question: As we all know, there was a spate of eco-positive films out of Hollywood in the late 60s and throughout the 70s. But America not long after landed in the Reagan era of unbridled consumption and although the environmental movement was alive and well, popular eco-sentiment seemed to go on hiatus. I have since been wary of critical claims that popularized themes can lead to meaningful social change. We know cinematic themes carry discrete effects and affects. But maybe they are negated by the seductions of consumption in the case of environmentalism. Thoughts?

    • Matthew Thompson, University of Toronto says:

      Hi Mario, I’m glad to hear that Silent Running holds a special place for you, as it does for me as well. It’s funny that you should mention its effect on your childhood, in Mark Kermode’s BFI book on Silent Running he often mentions what an important film it was for him during his youth.
      As for the short period in the 60s and 70s where environmental issues were woven into cinematic sf narratives, I agree that the films had mixed, if any, success in changing human interactions with the environment. Perhaps it wasn’t as clear as it could have been, but my main reading of the film is that it participates in an ecological fantasy that imagines that humans can control the natural world, and therefore preserve it, with technology. Just as we now imagine that carbon capture will save the earth from climate change, Silent Running imagines that space-age technology can prevent the extinction of non-human nature in the future. This to me is a flawed approach to environmental issues as it doesn’t acknowledge the unpredictable and uncontrollable nature of ecological systems. That being said, I do find the end of the film somewhat redeeming because the control of the nonhuman dome is ultimately surrendered by Lowell. Thanks for your comment!

      • AnneSchmalstig says:

        Hi Matthew, really cool presentation on a fascinating movie. I really like how you juxtaposed Fuller’s vision of a dome with the Valley Forge, and your analysis of them as related to the spaceship earth metaphor. I also love Dunaway’s _Seeing Green_. In chapter 1 there are two striking photos of white children being sprayed with DDT by men in trucks – that could be a cool visual for your discussion of the involvement of Dow in the production of the film and the main character’s plea for an ecological future for the white girl in the photo. This is more tangential, but Kim Stanley Robinson’s _Mars_ trilogy, especially the first novel _Red Mars_ deals with an attack on the dome that provides atmosphere and breathable air for an early settlement on Mars.

  13. ehamner says:

    Hi Anne, just wanted to alert you that I posted a comment a moment ago over on panel 1 that references your illuminating presentation as well. Thanks for introducing me to *The Future is Wild*!

    • AnneSchmalstig says:

      Hi Everett, thanks so much! It’s a very weird series I’ve been trying to turn as many people on to as possible. Thanks for watching and mentioning my presentation.

  14. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Hi Matthew, thank you for this really interesting reading of Spaceship Earth and Silent Running. Like Carter, I also really appreciated your outdoor setting (and the entrance of the dog at about the point you were discussing the mechanistic view of animals – good timing, pup!).

    If you haven’t read Rebekah Sheldon’s The Child to Come yet, it seems like it might be useful in building your argument about Lowell’s use of the young white girl in justifying the preservation of the ecosystem.

    I’m also particularly interested in your reading of the end of the film as a way of getting away from an anthropocentric environmental model (as complicated as this is in this context). There’s a thread over on panel 1 in response to my paper in particular that picks up some of this idea – if you’re interested, you might pop over there, too.

    One last thought – I was really struck by the use of amputees to act inside the drones. Have you given much thought to the way disability intersects with both nature and technology in this environmental narrative?

    • Matthew Thompson, University of Toronto says:

      Hi Christy,

      Thanks for your comments and suggestions. I haven’t read The Child to Come, I’ll have to check that out. I did take a quick read through some of the discussions on Panel one, which was helpful for my thinking about the post-human ecology at the end of Silent Running. For me, one of the problems that modern humans have when it comes to environmental issues is the tendency language has of separating things into discreet units. The environment, as we know, is far more complicated and interconnected than our representations of it. My attempt to read the Drone-Biodome hybrid as positive is based upon the understanding that it could exist in a space outside of linguistic oppositions of nature and technology. Of course, this sort of post-human environmentalism doesn’t leave much space for us!

      I could definitely spend more time thinking about how disability figures into the connections between nature and technology in the film, I think there is a lot more to say about it. I do know that at least some of the amputees were Vietnam War vets who were injured in battle. The Vietnam War and all of its various violences (human and environmental) lurks in the background of this film.

  15. Christy Tidwell, South Dakota School of Mines & Technology says:

    Anne, thank you so much for your fascinating presentation. I find those kinds of speculative futures so interesting, and they come up in my teaching from time to time. I haven’t watched or taught The Future Is Wild, however – have you had a chance to use it in the classroom?

    I love your idea of slow resilience. This strikes me as not only a potentially useful term/concept but also as a lovely and hopeful one. Thank you for that. I also really like your approach to the sublime here. It could connect in interesting ways with the argument I am making (Panel 1) about cosmic horror.

    Finally, I know your focus is on climate fiction, but I wonder how other texts looking at the distant future fit into your analysis. I’m thinking of H. G. Wells’s The Time Machine (a future, ultimately without humans), in particular. Have you given any thought to how other sf texts like this might fit into your argument? Or does that just open it up too much?

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