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No Impact Man
(No longer in theaters)
Colin Beavan, the Manhattan writer who’s the subject of the documentary No Impact Man, began with the notion of penning a book about a year of living lightly on the Earth—biking around the city, eating only locally grown food, using little (or no) electricity, depositing his waste in a vat of worms, etc. That book, just published, recounts his odyssey and its underlying philosophy with likable earnestness, but the movie gives off a stranger vibe. Beavan is both a hero and a figure of fun, a man whose ideals are in constant collision with the habits of modern life. Enduring withdrawal from Starbucks coffee, his wife, Michelle Conlin (who writes for, of all places, BusinessWeek), incinerates him with her stare. Milk for his toddling daughter spoils. Almost as bad is the belittling Times account (“The Year Without Toilet Paper”) and the media’s tendency to portray him as either an eccentric or a threat to capitalism. The film’s very frame is postmodern. This urban Thoreau is trailed by documentary cameras, and when Beavan flips off the circuit breakers, plunging his family into darkness, those cameras are shooting the cameras of Good Morning America.
But I guess that’s how you break through to the public nowadays, and the movie, directed by Laura Gabbert and Justin Schein, manages to be both amusing and unnerving, a reminder of how unsustainable our collective lifestyle has become. For all the media ridicule, Beavan is not behind the curve but ahead of it. Future archaeologists will shake their heads at Good Morning America and bought-and-paid-for skeptics like Rush Limbaugh (who consumes more in a day than Beavan in a year and whose trips to the loo generate as much methane as many dairy farms). No Impact Man—film and book—could well end up an instruction manual.