Review: The Planet Enters a New, Uncertain Era in Anthropocene: The Human Epoch

As difficult as it is to imagine, the Earth’s condition—both in terms of climate and physical characteristics—is not more a result of human shaping and interference than forces of nature. Everything from climate change, mass animal extinctions, strip mining, and countless other ways to ravage the Earth recently led to geologists to assign the planet a new geologic phase—Anthropocene, the successor to the 12,000-year Holocene epoch that followed the Ice Age. And in case you hadn’t heard, the planet is at a tipping point that even scientists don’t quite know how to measure or predict if we can ever come back from.

Image courtesy of Siskel Film Center

The latest from filmmakers Jennifer Baichwal (Manufactured Landscapes), Nicholas de Pencier (Long Time Running with Baichwal), and Edward Burtynsky (Watermark, also with Baichwal), Anthropocene: The Human Epoch uses the entire Earth as its setting to give us examples of just how dire the situation is by taking us to wildlife sanctuaries where critically endangered animals live, a phosphate mine in Florida, marble quarries in Italy, the flooded alleys of Venice, lithium pools in the Chilean desert, a Kenyan landfill with hundreds of recycling pickers who work there daily, and Russia’s most polluted city, Norislk. Some of these examples are so vast and impressive, there’s a strange and eerie visual beauty to them, which is deeply cinematic. But then you remember that you’re looking at examples of your world dying, and it’s impossible not to snap back to reality and feel that all is hopeless.

Narrated by actress Alicia Vikander in measured, thoughtful tones, Anthropocene is not pure activist filmmaking, and it’s not really attempting to be. There are no real answers to the problems on display, perhaps because there are none in the world. But it’s difficult to walk away from this film without feeling like an intruder, after seeing what this sampling says about humanity. This is a movie that provides visually pure and beautifully photographed proof of the danger in which people are putting the planet. It’s a heavy film and may not be ideal for around the holidays, but it’s critical viewing.

The film opens today for a weeklong run at the Gene Siskel Film Center.

Did you enjoy this post? Please consider supporting Third Coast Review’s arts and culture coverage by becoming a patron. Choose the amount that works best for you, and know how much we appreciate your support! 

Steve Prokopy
Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet
Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for
Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and
filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a
frequent contributor at /Film ( and Backstory Magazine.
He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently
owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for
the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer
for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the
city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.