Plastic Paradise: The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an independent documentary film that chronicles Angela Sun’s personal journey of discovery to one of the most remote places on Earth, Midway Atoll, to uncover the truth behind the mystery of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. Along the way, she encounters scientists, celebrities, legislators and activists, like oceanographer Jean-Michel Cousteau, who shed light on what our society’s vast consumption of disposable plastic is doing to our oceans – and what it may be doing to our health.
As Hollywoodreporter.com points out, many fine environmental docs have already been produced on this subject but this film invigorates the dialogue about the damage that modern technology is doing to the planet we all inhabit. The film begins with a disturbing image of a dead bird being cut open, as plastic objects are removed from its stomach. This leads into a brief history of plastic, which (in contrast to natural materials) never really decomposes. The large island in the Pacific has become a massive garbage dump that Sun’s camera explores. The enormous amount of waste has proved deadly to the large population of albatrosses that are one of the island’s primary residents.
Another revelation is how much chemically treated plastic has been ingested by fish and the harm this can do to people who eat fish on a regular basis, rather naively convinced that it is a healthier alternative to chicken and beef. In addition, the oceans’ coral reefs are being steadily destroyed by the accumulation of plastic.
The villains of the piece are usual suspects like Dow Chemical, Dupont, Exxon Mobil, and the American Chemistry Council, an industry group that has sought to downplay the dangers of chemicals attached to plastic. In one sequence Sun pulls a “Michael Moore” and sneaks into a meeting of the Council and tries to confront some top executives, who promptly have her ejected from the premises. A surprising hero of the film is former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, who railed against the glut of plastic bags.
The photography is a strong asset, and images from Midway Island are especially striking. When Sun tells us at the end of the film that the amount of plastic in the world will quadruple by the year 2050, it is not exactly a happy conclusion to this thoughtful, chilling film.