Darren Aronofsky Ought to Make an Oil Sands Documentary

Cenovus’ Christina Lake oil sands operation

Darren Aronofsky’s been making the rounds on the internet recently more for a piece of environmental writing published on The Daily Beast than for one of his films, so it seems to me the only logical next step would be to combine the two. Did anyone else notice that an incredible story readily discloses itself in Aronofsky’s diary? It reads almost like an environmentalist version of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, with environmental violations taking the place of slavery, the oil-profiteering Suncor dutifully filling in for the tyrannical slave-dealing Company, and things looking bleaker and grimmer for the human race as Aronofsky and his team travel upriver.

Not only does Aronofsky expose the root of the problem in Alberta clearly in his account, but he also demonstrates a need for heightened attention to the issue when he writes “It’s funny [that the situation in Alberta is so extreme] because as an American you somehow always think Canada is on the right side of the issues”. The vast majority of Canadians have willfully deluded themselves to this same conclusion. Even with the lengthening litany of environmental, legal and social abuses the Canadian government has left in its wake, many still refuse to acknowledge that there might be something amiss in Canada. They casually wave away the mounting odour of a jingoistic conservative minority that believes Canada’s resources to be the sole property of a select few. They see no problem with suborning a whole country to strip-mine its environment for a temporary gain which spares no thought for the future.

Other than the constant drone of journalists reporting back some new fresh hell about the oil sands, not much of a fuss has been made in the popular consciousness about the situation in Alberta. Sure, there’s one documentary on Youtube about it, but Youtube is hardly the source for authoritative information. There’s another documentary on Netflix featuring forty-five minutes of aerial flybys of the Alberta oil sands. But with no music, no facts, and no Al Gore (it is otherwise silent save for some abstract sounds) it’s rather useless as a documentary. Aronofsky and DiCaprio could give us that ole’ time religion, Sodom and Gomorrah apocalyptic agitprop cinema that seems sorely needed to wake up these dumb statues and breathing stones in society.

According to the National Post, DiCaprio is already at work on his own environmental documentary, but I see no harm in Aronofsky doing his own. Or why not a collaboration between the two? What better pair for this material could there be between Aronofsky, energized by his recent, eco-toned apocalyptic visions in Noah, and DiCaprio, longtime defender and proselytizer of environmentalism?

“Someone else says it doesn’t feel like Canada,” Aronofsky writes, “feels more like Russia”. The suggestion is not far removed from the reality since both countries are ruled by political thuggery and oligarchical monopoly (the Ford Dynasty in Toronto being the most recent, ruinous and failed example). Indeed, Russia’s claim for the Arctic follows roughly the same logic as the Harper government: if nobody else is going to use it for profit then we might as well. A similar argument can be traced back to the Dawes Act of 1887, enacted so that the US Congress could appropriate land from Native Americans, whom the Congress felt weren’t using the resource-rich land to its fullest potential. As a Canadian I’m not so much embarrassed by this current situation as I am enraged by it, and I’m quite happy to let Aronofsky and DiCaprio be the ones to radicalize me.

The Cancer of Canada: The Alberta oil sands. Notice the stark division between the “developed” area and the undeveloped side. I’ll leave you to determine what Suncorp and the Canadian government call each side.

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