Luc Jacquet’s Antarctica: Ice & Sky is an urgent warning on climate change told from the perspective of Claude Lorius, a respected glaciologist who first voiced concerns roughly 40 years ago about the connectivity between humans and the Earth’s climate. Through air bubbles caught in ice cores extracted from thousands of meters within the Antarctic tundra, Lorius was able to paint a picture of the planet’s atmosphere across millions of years—and discovered a common thread in Earth’s current state and other times of natural disaster. Rather than create a straightforward screed against climate-change denialists, Jacquet frames the film as a memoir of Lorius’s life and his decades of research that undergirds the scientific consensus on climate change.
Antarctica: Ice & Sky achieves something of a serene quality in its lack of bullish insistence or rhetoric to gloomily outline climate change’s effect on Earth. In a metaphorical articulation of mankind’s imposing relationship with the natural world, an early image depicts a shadow (soon revealed to be that of Lorius himself) ominously growing bigger over a sparkling sheet of ice. Later, an unbelievable drone shot flying through Antarctic glaciers ominously illustrates how the continent’s ice sheet is melting away and exposing rocky mountain terrain and streams that wouldn’t be out of place in the Pacific Northwest. Beautiful as this landscape may be, it’s understood that its slow revelation has dangerous implications for Earth’s future.
The film, though, is more than just climate-change evangelism. The footage of scientists trying to maintain a semblance of an everyday life while working in one of the most remote parts of the Earth is a celebration of the values of effort and perseverance. At times, the philosophizing of the film’s narration can be strenuous (Michel Papineschi’s voice stands in for Lorius’s own), but just as often it attests to how intricately bound the lives of these scientists are to their environment, as when a shot of bubbles coursing through a warm and necessary glass of whiskey are equated to the air bubbles from the past that are released by the Antarctic tundra. In this way, Antarctica: Ice & Sky represents a different shade of the mono-message documentary, advancing its cause through an intimately diaristic depiction of hard work done well.