Cinematic Landscapes of the Anthropocene

The Anthropocene is a term proposed by some geologists to redesignate the current geological epoch in which we live. The argument for this reclassification highlights the profound and lasting impact humans have had as a species on the planet from the beginning of agriculture to the “great acceleration” of industrial and private resource consumption from the mid-twentieth century to the present day. Activities such as the detonation of atomic weapons, industrial accidents, the emission of large amounts of greenhouse gases, and other forms of pollution have left a legible stratigraphic mark on the surface of the earth that will be detectable for eons to come.

BYU Professor Christopher Oscarson’s research project does not weigh into the stratigraphers’ arguments about the minutiae of geological classifications; rather, it takes the idea of the Anthropocene as a metaphor for rethinking the human relationship to nature and considering the challenge of representing Homo sapiens as a geologic agent. Nature can no longer be defined as that which is untouched by humans. Everything is connected. Oscarson’s research project focuses on examples from recent Scandinavian films that in various ways reject the notion that nature is something intrinsically outside the human and grapple with the idea that nature and wilderness, in a sense, no longer exists. This awareness forces a new type of ecological imagination that can potentially dislodge entrenched, misanthropic views of the place and role of humanity on a rapidly changing planet, and invites a rethinking of key concepts of environmental stewardship and the very notion of ecology.

Photo: The transportation of dead reindeer in Northern Sweden contaminated from the radioactive fallout following the nuclear accident at Chernobyl. A still from the movie Hotet (The Threat) by Stefan Jarl, 1987.

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