Movie Review

Rapid ascent of climate change activist comes to life in I Am Greta

Rapid ascent of climate change activist comes to life in I Am Greta

Many people have tried to call attention to the climate change crisis, but few have gotten more attention — especially in recent years — than Greta Thunberg. The Swedish teenager has gone from solitary climate strikes outside of Parliament in Stockholm to being internationally known in less than two years, an ascent that would be head-spinning for any young person, much less one with such an important message.

The documentary I Am Greta chronicles her journey, detailing how she’s inspired people around the world, and how her speaking out has led to immense backlash, as well. The film, directed by Nathan Grossman, starts off with voice clips of people denying the existence or importance of climate change, foreshadowing the resistance that Thunberg will face over the course of the film.

Thunberg has Asperger syndrome, a disorder on the autism spectrum that can manifest itself in repetitive thoughts or behavior. The film doesn’t focus on this fact, but neither does it shy away from it. Thunberg freely admits that she has gotten laser-focused on different things throughout her life, although she views her current fixation as much more than just a byproduct of her condition.

The film also shows how quickly people’s lives can be changed in the social media world. An interview Thunberg gave to BBC in September 2018 was retweeted by Arnold Schwarzenegger to his more than 4 million followers, an act that essentially started her celebrity. It wasn’t long before Thunberg was speaking at a UN Climate Conference, a speech that also went viral, inspiring climate marches around the world.

She would go on to meet with French president Emmanuel Macron, Pope Francis, and other world leaders who supported her mission. However, she would also receive criticism from leaders like Russian president Vladimir Putin and U.S. president Donald Trump, who echoed refrains that she was too young to be trusted or that she lacked her own ideas.

If you’ve never seen Thunberg speak, the effect can be bracing due to the absence of pretense. Most people would warm up a crowd with some sort of introduction, but Thunberg jumps right into the meat of her argument, often harshly calling out leaders to their faces over their lack of action on climate change.

While a veneration of Thunberg and her work in general, the film does her no favors when it comes any concrete action she is proposing. If she goes into any specifics during her speeches or meetings with world leaders, that’s not reflected on screen. That unfortunately only makes it easier for her critics to call her a scold and nothing more.

What the film does succeed in doing is personalizing Thunberg. As can often be the case with viral sensations, she has been defined by her cause and not who she is in full. Grossman includes many smaller moments of Thunberg having intimate conversations with her family, goofing off, feeling overwhelmed, and more. Despite her poise when making speeches, she’s not an automaton, and these scenes emphasize her humanity.

Thunberg remarks at one point that “Humanity sees nature as a bottomless bag of candy,” a sentiment that’s difficult to dispute. The film makes clear that few significant steps have been made toward combatting climate change, noting that the world is still not on track to meet the Paris Agreement that was signed in 2016. The message of Thunberg and I Am Greta is a grim one, but one with a shred of hope, knowing there are passionate people putting in the hard work toward change.

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I Am Greta premieres exclusively on Hulu on November 13.

Greta Thunberg and protesters in I Am Greta
Greta Thunberg and protesters in I Am Greta. Photo courtesy of Hulu