The Ice and the Sky
Luc Jaquet returns to the Antarctic after his stunning documentary March of the Penguins collected an Oscar. This time his focus is on celebrated glaciologist Claude Lorius, who was one of the first Antarctic scientific explorers to suggest the rise of CO2 emissions in the 20th century was having a disastrous impact on the polar ice caps.
Jacquet could have easily traced the life of Lorius through talking-head interviews and produced a static, academic portrait of a great scientist. Instead, we cut from archive footage of Lorius as a young, courageous scientist at the helm of a ship, as it ploughs through sheets of ice, to the present, where we see Lorius, now 82, dwarfed by the Antarctic landscape, silently retracing the past as he revisits his old research bases. We follow his career as he describes the tireless work with the American and the Russian teams, overcoming the myriad obstacles that the unyielding tundra presents and the shocking discoveries found buried deep in the ice. The bulk of the film depicts this seminal career using Lorius’ archive footage, which at times is digressive and slow. Thankfully, the biopic section is bookended by Jacquet’s swooping panoramic tracking shots and a sumptuous orchestral score, the combination of which elevates the Antarctic terrain to full poetic glory.
The Ice and the Sky is a stirring, humanist portrait of a scientist dedicated to understanding and protecting the uncharted Antarctic. However, Jacquet dwells on the life of Lorius and thus the conclusion rushes a moralist message about individual and political action against climate change, which makes it seem a little heavy-handed. Documentary filmmakers who focus on climate change often struggle with how to address the audience: they are too timid to get on the soapbox and moralise, but that is the only option when faced with a challenge so great. Jacquet’s film ends with Lorius, alone in a white expanse, reaching out of the screen and grabbing the audience with his words: “All we have to do now is act. Now that you know too, what are you going to do about it?”
The Ice and the Sky is released in selected cinemas on 11th December 2015.
Watch the trailer for The Ice and the Sky here: