Published Sep 09, 2010Most Canadians recognize David Suzuki from his long-running TV show, The Nature of Things, being somewhat of a CBC staple for all things environmental and scientific. He holds over 20 degrees from various universities, has published nearly 50 books and stands as one of Canada's most significant and cherished figures. Because of this, a documentary detailing his legacy lecture in British Columbia sounds, in concept, like it might be a little slice of nationalistic hokum, but it's nothing of the sort.
Gunnarsson's documentary takes a linear approach to his subject, starting out with Suzuki detailing his childhood as a Canadian-born Jap, ignored by the whites and teased by Japanese kids because of his inability to speak their language. He revisits old homes, discussing his upbringing and parents, describing teen life as the first family of racial difference in Leamington, ON, implying that social isolation and racial confusion led to his fascination with science.
While none of this comes as particularly surprising, giving us some interesting context for such a driven and ambitious man, it's the less comfortable subjects that compel and make this documentary so appealing. Being divorced and spending most of his time working, Suzuki acknowledges his limitations as a family man, sounding far more passionate when discussing environmental peril and implicit human stupidity.
Combined with his upbringing as a partial social outcast and his university years as a hardcore hippie, his limited home life creates a sense of loneliness that remains dominant throughout the film. Because of this, his comparison of human beings to maggots and bacteria — gaining sustenance from each other's waste and being too stupid to recognize impending crisis — comes off as surprisingly character defining.
It is this tendency to mix Suzuki's likeable presence with humanizing disdain and psychological guardedness that makes this potentially twee doc something of substance. While not perfect, it's far more fascinating than I thought it would be going in. (eOne)