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How Environmental Movies Impact Viewers' Behaviors

By: Rahal K.


In a world where the mass production of materials occurs alongside the burning of fossil fuels, people tend to forget the impacts of human actions that take a toll on various environments. Many people have heard about the Australian wildfires -- specifically the koala that gave up on surviving the sudden harsh weather as it witnessed its paradise slowly become hell. Many people have witnessed or been introduced to the images depicting coral reefs slowly losing their color due to ocean acidification, and slowly lose the diversity that oceans once held. Given these undeniable truths, it is significantly important for humans to rise as one to help better the environment. In a study conducted by NASA this year, our carbon footprint has “increased 11-fold since 1961” (Global Footprint Network 2020). This is a result of increased usage of cars, fuel/gas, human waste, and much more. As the amount of carbon greatly increases in the air, it causes normal temperatures to rise. These rising temperatures lead to more disastrous events such as increased levels of air and water pollution, extinction of organisms, and higher rates of individuals being diagnosed with respiratory or cardiovascular illnesses such as asthma or heart disease. However, there is one way to combat this issue in a persuasive manner: Movies. Movies have played a relevant part in society whether it be for entertainment or an educational experience, and so have their impact. Take the movie Mean Girls for instance. A film that came nearly a decade ago still leaves many viewers in an entrancement from its humor on high school stereotypes. Movies that focus on the environment may be met with the same impact if told in an entertaining way. Since the media influences an individual’s everyday actions, who is to say learning about the environment will not do the same?


Environmental movies have been present since childhood. Even if the meaning may seem convoluted or unnecessary as a child, the retelling of the story as an adult may serve to show a movie’s true significance. For example, the movie Bambi focuses on hunting for sport and its impact on animals as well as wildlife. By filming it from a deer’s point of view, it left many watchers in tears and sympathy for the life lost. It has been said that since the movie was released there has been a drop in deer hunting among hunting communities (Murray & Heumann, 2016). But why? Why are these 2D or 3D movies igniting these emotions? Why has there been a drop in deer cases? Well, according to some individuals such as Elliot Hopper (2019), “Movies inspire us to act...They give us ideas and motivation to change something for the better…[they] are the source of knowledge” (Hopper 2019). From its cinematography to the plot, a movie holds a story that a viewer can imagine themselves in. They are given the ability to think about their own actions compared to that of fictional characters. Therefore, if this is the case, movies that focus on the environment and its underlying issues may promote viewers to become more sustainable or more aware in their community.


To explore the behavioral changes induced by movies that showcased environmental messages, a survey was created containing 4 movies: The Lorax, Wall-E, Rio 2, and Chicken Run. From deforestation to the meat industry, these titles were able to raise awareness on the implications of human selfishness. The selfish desire for the human race to progress and advance in society despite the destruction of natural environments as well as wildlife is the purpose environmental films are reaching towards. To do so would allow for wide audiences to forego their unsustainable habits in real life, ultimately bettering the environment. To continue, in this survey, participants were asked to rate their success in portraying an environmental issue.


'Dr. Seuss' The Lorax' entertains while delivering climate change message. Photo from: T. Press


Generally speaking, each movie was deemed to be very successful (rated an 8 or above out of 10). Specifically, one individual who had seen The Lorax was inspired by Dr. Seuss’s thought-provoking quote, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not”. To elaborate on this notion it sparks a sense of community/involvement between the speaker and the viewer. Effective communication tactics that are present in movies (dialogue between characters or environmental themes shown through setting/plot) provoke the viewer to experience feelings of motivation or a desire to create change. Thus, as another participant mentioned, “I really started to pay attention to recycling and trash more. I made sure I was recycling things correctly (removing plastic wraps and making sure everything was actually recyclable.” In a way, The Lorax alongside other movies are able to stimulate viewers into committing to certain behaviors through the intended message. As countless depictions of human greed and apocalyptic scenery is constant in these films, it creates a sense of urgency for viewers to take on the current environment they are in. Furthermore, these movies act as a type of parallel word in which an audience observing the storyline can take different actions to preserve the Earth.

Wall-E's future depiction of Earth, scary yet possibly accurate. Photo from: Setting


Referring back to the survey, when participants were asked to comment on the impact Wall-E had on them, one viewer remembered feeling “very scared for our future; it made me think critically about how I am contributing to climate change because of the vivid and massive depictions of landfills and trash from humans.”Even though Wall-E begins with an adorable robot mindlessly adhering to its programming, the setting and silence create an eerie sensation for viewers. It is as though Wall-E offers a satiric twist on mankind’s destruction to Earth. The dystopian aspects call attention to the rapid effects of climate change that was caused by the human race, and the necessity to preserve the current state of Earth.

Eerie image from Wall-E suggests the future outcome of anthropogenic environmental destruction. Photo from: Setting


Movies are created for various reasons, each with its own unique message for viewers. From the cinematography to an intricate plot, movies hold special meanings for different types of people. Whether it be personal or universal, the multiple features within a single film persuade viewers to carry out similar actions as well into their daily lives. The effort and skill applied into crafting an intriguing movie qualifies to educate a large group is what environmental movies do. Perhaps one may learn the importance of the Three R’s (reuse, reduce, recycle), or the brutality in rhino hunting. These environmental movies are only the first step to creating meaningful changes, as it is up to the viewer to decide if their actions will henceforth help create a better tomorrow.


Discussion Questions:

  • Which of the movies in the article created the most memorable impact on you? How did it change your life?

  • Do you believe that movies with an environmental message will expedite people to become more sustainable?


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