Albert Einstein once said, “If the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” Prescient words that seemingly guide this unnerving investigation into the steady dwindling of the world’s population of bees. Throughout the documentary, director Marcus Imhoof spotlights two beekeepers: Fred Jaggi, a passionate, third-generation apiarist living in Switzerland, and John Miller, a Florida businessman who lends his personal bee colonies to orchards and farms in need of pollination. Both men, candid and erudite professionals whom Imhoof films in a careful, observation manner, have different approaches to their craft (Jaggi is the meditative purist, Miller the pragmatic capitalist), but are similarly distressed with and confused by the steady and seemingly unexplainable disappearance of bees from our planet.
Imhoof, though, occasionally shifts focus away from Jaggi and Miller’s stories, which are marked by the ups and downs of the unstable nature of their vocation, and to scientists from around the world and their efforts to better understand bee behavior, which might provide insights into why these insects are at risk of extinction. He also visits factory farms where bees injected with various hormones and pesticides to make them less aggressive are mated with feral bees, resulting in cross contamination. Additionally, using state-of-the-art cameras and an up-close, pervasive style that brings to mind Lucien Castaing-Taylor and Véréna Paravel’s breathtaking Leviathan, Imhoof portrays the perilous existence bees face within their own colonies, where invasive, parasitic mites are becoming more and more prevalent.
Though not quite as serene as the scenes with Miller and Jaggi, these sequences are valuable solely for the wealth of information they expound, even though the film doesn’t culminate with a clear-cut answer as to why bees are dying. Via voiceover, Imhoof suggests that it isn’t pesticides, antibiotics, or invasive mites responsible for the bee crisis, but rather a combination of all mitigating factors. His odd, Herzogian reaction to this revelation: “Why do the bees put up with it?” This seemingly trivial, innocuously comical statement is both the film’s general thesis and the gateway to its third act, which poses philosophical questions about the ways bees interact with humans. Imhoof seems to think there’s something deeply mysterious and maybe even cosmic going on beneath the more tangible circumstances of human influence over animal life. The conclusions drawn are indeed fanciful, but Imhoof’s sheer force of personality is captivating. Taken in stride with its more sensible investigative aspects, More Than Honey reveals itself as a curious, audacious mix of personal essay film and nature documentary.