According to Austrian-German filmmaker Werner Boote, we are now living in the age of plastic. After the stone, bronze and ice ages, plastic is the element that will define our planet for the next 500 years. This is, of course, a very bad thing and Boote explains why in his documentary, Plastic Planet.
The film opens with an ominous aerial shot of a jungle while Boote, using his most serious voice tone, informs us that there are no more places left on Earth where nature is truly untouched by the hand of manking. A few scenes later he visits the spots in the Sahara Desert where Lawrence of Arabia was filmed and instead of watching the beautifully golden landscapes shot by David Lean in 1962, we encounter an arid place filled with empty trash bags.
Soon we understand what Boote meant and for almost two hours, he shows us all the places that have been invaded by plastic. From the middle of the Pacific Ocean to the sperm of European men, there are no safe places left where we won’t run into the hazards of plastic; which more than air or water pollution can cause brain damage, infertility—all sorts of health issues.
The rigorous Boote makes sure no fields are left untouched and explores the influence of plastic in biology, the economy and even politics. His overreaching nature displays his great passion for the cause, but it also hurts the movie’s chances of provoking more urgent reactions. He interviews biologists who reveal that certain elements in plastic react like hormones causing female whelks (marine gastropods) to grow penises. He discusses plastic politics with a member of the European Parliament and in a slightly surreal scene talks about the future of plastic with a lobbyist whose theories might give Hollywood material for horror films in years to come.
Because he is so interested in the myriad parts of our world plastic has affected, he fails to find a single cause with which to inspire his audience to take action against what he condemns. The film travels aimlessly from country to country and talks with all kinds of experts without ever finding a single unifying theme. This lack of depth in each of the segments makes it easier for skeptical audiences to dismiss his allegations.
This becomes more obvious watching the film at home, where you can pause as needed and resume at a later point, having forgotten all the facts and data Boote threw at you minutes before. Not so surprisingly, the most prevalent theme in Plastic Planet is the story about Boote and his grandfather, who at one point was the president of German Interplastic Works. Boote narrates how, as a child, he was the neighborhood’s envy every time his grandpa brought over new plastic toys. Yet when years later he sets off on his mission to disprove the benefits of plastic and proclaims “congratulations grandfather, your plastic is invincible”, we are no sure if he’s trying to defend his grandfather’s legacy or if there’s a more complex oedipal issue at the bottom of it all.
Boote never helps clear this up because, like his movie, he displays several personae that don’t make much sense as a whole. There’s the Boote that narrates with serious tones reminiscent of Al Gore, then there’s the version of him that gets “stoned on the smell of softener”, and there’s also a Michael Moore-like Boote that follows plastic industry executives with a suitcase containing accusative papers.
What Boote lacks in concentration, he makes up in dedication, which makes you think that perhaps his film would make more sense as a television series, in which different episodes covered the diverse ramifications of his studies. This notion is justified by the extras in the DVD which are comprised of four scenes that weren’t included in the final cut. One of them has Boote licking a ‘50s-era Barbie doll, exclaiming that he couldn’t resist not doing it. Another has him discussing life and death with a man who plastifies human bodies, in a sequence that recalls Ingmar Bergman’s most comically dark works.
Boote is certainly charming, but sometimes his extroverted personality reveals an affected and arrogant side. When he wonders “Am I the only one who cares about plastic:” after having a Japanese toy sculptor recreate him as an action figure, we are left wondering just how seriously we can take him.