As if we didn’t already have enough signs of the impending apocalypse with which to contend (climate change, the threat of nuclear war, swine flu), The End of the Line brings glad tidings of a new threat to the planet’s sustainability, an overfishing epidemic so severe that the world’s piscatory stock may be completely depleted by 2048. Based on the book by journalist Charles Clover (who also appears in the film), Rupert Murray’s documentary traces the history of the phenomenon from its first discovery in 1992 when Newfoundland fishermen found their centuries-old cod stock suddenly vanished to its present-day crisis, interviewing scientists, activists, and fisherman to hammer home its talking points.
The test of any “support our cause” doc is what effect it has on the unconverted and—as someone rather severely alarmed about the future of our planet, but unfamiliar with the overfishing problem—I have to say it’s not a very strong one. No doubt a complete depletion of the world’s fish stock would have disastrous global consequences, but despite the note of barely contained outrage struck by both the film’s talking heads and narrator Ted Danson, the picture fails to build a rigorous enough argument to sustain this indignant tone. Instead we get some vague talk about changing ecosystems, a perfunctory mention of the implications for world hunger and little idea of the true consequences of the crisis.
The film is at least more exact in detailing the present day woes of fisherman afflicted by the depletion, most movingly a Senegalese man whose livelihood is threatened by his country’s selling of fishing rights to the highest bidder and who will likely have to leave his family in order to seek new work to support them. But for the most part, Murray relies on a pumped up rhetoric, both visual (a ridiculously edited fishing sequence complete with slow-mo close-ups of faces and blood) and verbal (the narration rather obnoxiously characterizes sushi eaters as “fashion conscious”) to paper over the cracks in his film’s argument. If overfishing is to take its place among that growing catalogue of woes already assaulting the American conscious, and no doubt its case at least deserves to be heard amid the clamor, it will certainly take a far more cogent polemicist than Rupert Murray to make it stick.