From its opening moments, This Changes Everything wants to set itself apart from all those other climate change documentaries you may have seen.
“Can I be honest with you? I’ve always kinda hated films about climate change,” says Naomi Klein, the narrator and author of the book upon which the documentary is based. Klein sets up her thesis early about how this documentary sets itself apart, and a slew of famous producers like Alfonso Cuarón and Seth MacFarlane join in. Everything isn’t about the melting glaciers or the polar bears, as adorable as they may be. This Changes Everything instead argues that what should drive us to incite change isn’t the world around us. It’s that mankind—”us”—and the problems we face provide all the reasons we need to become passionate climate change advocates.
Klein and director/husband Avi Lewis do so by globe-hopping in a series of vignettes highlighting the problems of individuals, communities, and entire nations, and how change can come from even the smallest of sparks.
The global perspective is an effective route to take, correlating the struggles impacting ranchers in Montana after an oil spill with air pollution problems in China or the economic crises in Greece. But Klein’s mission to unify the globe feels rushed in its conclusion, bouncing from story to story without always painting a coherent or concise picture. What might have worked better as a miniseries is chopped down to under 90 minutes and a sequence of stories that feel relatively disconnected until the film’s surprisingly hopeful conclusion.
This Changes Everything puts its best foot forward early on, telling a few separate but thematically connected stories based in North America. From the Beaver Lake Cree Nation in Canada, to a pair of ranchers and the Cheyenne Indians in Montana, these stories feel properly explored on a micro and macro level. Despite Everything’s desire to distance itself from other climate change ventures, these early stories are perhaps the most conventionally structured for a documentary, and also the most engaging.
Klein and Lewis benefit the most from spotlighting local, focused movements in the face of setbacks as individuals and small groups work to protect the environment. The genuinely moving stories present Klein’s effort to the planet as a realistic and even achievable one.
Yet as Everything moves from nation to nation, the cohesion and potency of its message dissipates. Segments in Greece, India, and China feel rushed, the local struggles either not fully delineated as the first few stories, save for the occasionally harrowing sequence, like the police shooting showcased in India.
The final moments of the film come less as a smoothly articulated thesis and more as a sweeping message that forgot to connect some of the dots. Klein’s suggestion on how these concentrated movements against political and industrial institutions can be bolstered to a larger scale to protect the planet is an admirable one, but it’s a call to action that deserves a finely articulated argument, one less concerned with its place in the climate change canon.
This Changes Everything