Review: I Am Greta

As the title suggests, Nathan Grossman’s documentary about teen climate crisis activist Greta Thunberg is more about the person than the activist, though, with someone like Greta, the distinction may be moot. Consequently, the viewer often gets the feeling that Grossman doesn’t know which direction to take, and while Greta herself doesn’t really seem to mind his camera being around all the time, she rarely treats it or Grossman with undue attention. She’s essentially saying to us, “This is what you get,” but that may be more than she thinks.

The movie covers about a year in time, from Greta’s first brush with notoriety, when she went on a solo school strike in Stockholm at the age of 15 to draw attention to global warming in August 2018 and get her native Sweden to join the Paris Accords, until September 2019 when she gave a withering speech blasting world leaders at the UN for their failure to initiate any meaningful action to address climate change. What’s clear from the very beginning is that Greta takes it all very personally. Her dour, scolding attitude springs from an acute realization that her generation will bear the brunt of the climate crisis while those who now exacerbate it in the name of growth and progress will be dead sooner than later. This is, of course, what her dectractors fail to grasp about her. They think her attitude is a function of her Asperger’s (a Fox News pundit calls her a “child with a mental illness”) and makes her out to be malleable to left-wing adults who want to push their alarmist, anti-capitalist agenda, but one thing the movie makes clear is that Greta defies manipulation. Her own father, Svante, who tends to be the only adult she listens to with any deference, says outright that it was Greta who changed his own mind about global warming through the force of her considerable will, and while he necessarily has to chaperone her and make sure she doesn’t collapse psychologically under the weight of all she’s taken on, he knows his own limits as a parent and guardian. There are a number of tense scenes where father and daughter square off over some matter of protocol or safety.

Certainly, too much will be assigned to the Asperger’s, but Greta’s savant tendencies certainly work to her advantage in terms of the work she’s taken on. She’s got a photographic memory, and her stubborn streak means she can’t be swayed by sentimentality or material temptations. Like many young people of her particular temperament, she gets along with animals better than with people, and her veganism, not to mention her disregard for consumerism, are not things she even thinks twice about. For sure, when she embarks on her trip to New York from Europe on a sailboat, because flying would give her opponents ammunition, she is reluctant, mainly because she will be separated from her beloved dogs and horses for so long, but also because the isolation and deprivation will be a trial. She, more than anyone, understands that she comes from a position of privilege, and, in a way, the sea voyage can be seen as Greta testing her own resolve, which may explain why her speech at the UN right after she finished the voyage was so vociferous. 

Grossman perhaps overdoes the nerdy teen thing. “I don’t care about being popular,” Greta says at one point about the disparagement directed at her by trolls and climate change deniers, but the director frames it as the statement of purpose of a contrarian adolescent toward the cool kids in class. If Greta the climate firebrand seems inseparable from Greta the moody teenager it only plays up her integrity as a lightning rod for others her age who are similarly distressed about their futures. She doesn’t do things by half-measures because she knows definitively that half-measures will not save the planet. She’s as honest with herself as she is about the world. 

In Swedish and English. Opens Oct. 22 in Tokyo at Shinjuku Piccadilly (050-6861-3011), Human Trust Cinema Shibuya (03-5468-5551).

I Am Greta home page in Japanese

photo (c) 2020 B-Reel Films AB

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