Movie Review – Edward Burtynsky: Manufactured Landscapes

Changing our world through consumption

What if we looked at the changing landscapes caused by industry, material and waste debris without criticism or a frantic search for solutions?  What if we looked through the lens of an artist such as Edward Burtynsky, one with the ability to show us the immense, unsettling world of industry in a way that makes us stop and think about it?

Manufactured Landscapes succeeds in this goal. With haunting images, Burtynsky shows us a world of mass production, e-waste, shipyards, coal as energy, the Three Gorges Dam in China and environmental consequences with minimal commentary. The images pass slowly before our eyes, letting us create our own voiceover.  The film moves at a thoughtful (some might say pedestrian – the opening scene consists of one single eight minute dolly shot in a huge manufacturing facility. One such factory has 23,000 employees) pace, forcing the viewer to absorb the image and digest its meaning.

Through this process, Burtynsky succeeds in shifting the conversation, allowing us to think about our lifestyle which is based primarily on consumption.  We buy things, discard or recycle the packaging, use the item then either recycle, donate or trash what we consumed. Burtynsky offers a rare glimpse behind the curtain normally shrouding product life; from birth at production to the mountains of recycled material and waste at the end of product usefulness. He is primarily concerned with engaging the link between the life we live and the environments resulting from this lifestyle.   The question is not whether we should care about the environment.  The real question might be; are we even aware of what currently exists?   A corollary question might be; what comprises the “good life?”  As long as quality of life is measured on an economic scale rather than on other means of fulfillment, our collective striving will forever be motivated by what we consume, be it housing, energy or consumer goods.

over and out.