Let’s face it – when watching something like I Am Greta, it’s hard to separate your opinion of the subject from your opinion of the documentary. Environmental activist Greta Thunberg is such a fantastically impressive person, with numerous achievements under her belt that would previously have been unheard of for a teenager, it’d be near impossible for the movie to not benefit from her reflected glory.
And still, Nathan Grossman’s film is praiseworthy in its own right. It takes us through her rapid rise – it’s jolting to be reminded it all happened in a little over a year – to global prominence, giving equal weight to her public and private sides. Watching the best parts of her most famous speeches in close succession really underlines what a commanding, piercing speaker she is. She refuses to ever soften her message – and considering the direness of the situation, who could blame her? – or let her audience off the hook. It’s tremendously invigorating to regard the fearlessness with which she speaks truth to power.
Yet the most poignant moments of the documentary are when we are with Greta in private. Though her Asperger’s syndrome has its upsides (primarily the single-mindedness with which she approaches her mission), when it comes to the incredible amount of social interaction she has had to undertake along her journey, it presents undeniable challenges. And even if she didn’t have those to contend with, the fact remains that she is a teenage girl in a ridiculous situation. She gets worn out and grumpy. She gets overwhelmed. Happily, her dad Svante is always at her side, ready to look after her. It’s a relief to see the two of them being goofy together – for Greta he’s truly an island of normality in the ocean of bewildering strangeness that her life has become. With him, at least, she gets to be a teenager.
Because if there’s one message you get from I Am Greta, it’s how disgraceful it is that humanity has got to the point of needing her. Teenage girls are brilliant, smart, creative people – but we shouldn’t be relying on them to save the planet! It’s impossible not to feel awful as we watch Greta weep in the middle of the choppy ocean she’s crossing on the way to speak at the UN, determined not to echo the hypocrisy of politicians by taking a flight, ‘I don’t want to have to do all this’. Or when she speaks about the death threats she’s received, concerns at which take a backseat to her prime directive; ‘I’m more worried about what would happen if I didn’t do this’. The burden we have placed on a fifteen year-old girl’s shoulders is nothing less than shameful; just as much as the film is a celebration of her, it’s a condemnation of us. To paraphrase Greta’s own words: How dare we?
Although often difficult to watch, I Am Greta is both a fitting tribute to the bravery and integrity of the inspiring activist, and a damning rebuke to the environmental negligence which has led to her activism being so vital.