“I used to be the next president of the United States,” Al Gore introduces himself to audiences in “An Inconvenient Truth,” a documentary that sheds light on the dangers of global warming. Though president he’s not, the self-described “recovering politician” is now doing something that the pressures and constraints of the nation’s highest office would, perhaps, not have allowed him to do.
He’s traveling the world with a PowerPoint presentation.
Actually, it’s not a PowerPoint presentation, as Gore good-naturedly pointed out in a Hatchet interview. It is a Keynote presentation – Keynote being Macintosh’s version of the presentation software. (Gore serves on Apple Computers’ board of directors, which may help explain the copious footage of him tinkering on his iBook throughout the film).
The Keynote presentation comprises the bulk of “An Inconvenient Truth” (Participant Productions), directed by Davis Guggenheim (“Deadwood,” “The First Year”). Sprinkled throughout the film are short biographical musings, narrated in Gore’s mild Tennessee twang, accompanied by pictures of the former vice president as a young boy frolicking on his family’s farm. Gore earnestly explains that the truth about global warming is inconvenient because, once people realize how much is at stake, “the moral imperative to make big changes would be inescapable.”
It may sound like a drama, but as Gore explained, “It’s the ultimate action movie because it prompts people to take action.”
It is this unwavering resolve and genuine optimism that propels “An Inconvenient Truth” into the required viewing category, easily stepping up to bat as the year’s “Fahrenheit 9/11” or “Supersize Me.” Both on film and in person, Gore is warm, funny and well spoken, making him an ideal conduit for a message that, in the hands of an unskilled speaker, could leave audiences cold. He is like a favorite professor: casual, accessible, yet passionate enough to make you want to understand the material. He transitions effortlessly from discussing the nuances of nuclear energy to re-enacting one of his guest stints on the show “Futurama,” where his daughter, Kristin Gore, is a writer.
Cartoons aside, Gore is serious about the truth, however inconvenient it may be. It’s a quality that lends credibility to his assertions that the film is not political – or at least, not partisan.
“It ain’t what we don’t know that gets us into trouble,” Gore says in the film, paraphrasing a Mark Twain quote. “It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so,” he quips, referring to the politicians and lobbyists who insist that the crisis isn’t serious and attempt to gloss over it by using politically diffuse terms like “climate change.”
With professorial patience, Gore walks the audience through the scientific underpinnings of the global warming crisis. He explains each graph and chart with ease, at one point even boarding an elevator-like lift in order to make a point about a spot on the graph that soars at least 10 feet above his head. The ridiculously lously high spot, that Gore cannot even reach with his laser pointer, shows the level that carbon emissions will reach in 50 years if left unchecked.
Although Gore certainly knows his facts, it is the way Guggenheim connects viewers to an emotionally accessible Gore that allows them to relate to “An Inconvenient Truth” and its message. Instead of seeing Gore as former U.S. vice president and two-time presidential contender, viewers see Gore the father, the husband, the teacher and the tireless crusader, stripped of podiums and microphones. Gore humbly credits Guggenheim’s direction with extracting the very personal story behind his ardent environmentalism.
“I learned things about myself that I did not have the ability to turn into words,” Gore said of the making of the film, which includes poignant reflections on his sister’s death and his son’s near-fatal accident. These brushes with tragedy “left a raw nerve ending,” Gore said, his tone casual, but his smile fading for a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it millisecond. “I was faced with the possibility of losing what I have, and what we want for our children,” he stated matter-of-factly, a sentiment that inspired him to re-commit himself to spreading awareness about global warming.
When asked if he’s considered running for public office again, Gore demurred, saying that he appreciated the question. He even crooned a line from Burt Bacharach’s “Blue on Blue,” in fond appreciation of Democratic voters. When pressed though, he was decisive, saying, “I don’t intend to be a candidate again.”
Though Gore may not be planning a return to politics, he said he is open to other possibilities. He was quick to note, seeming slightly amused at his own hip-ness, that he is “always available” for appearances on “Futurama” or other shows, and plans to stay active in academia. (In addition to his global Keynote presentation circuit, he teaches four lectures a year at Middle Tennessee State). “I’d love to give a lecture at GW,” he said.
In the meantime, Gore is staying busy. To coincide with the release of “An Inconvenient Truth,” Rodale books will publish Gore’s book by the same name, a follow-up to his 1992 best-seller “Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit.” He continues to give his Keynote presentation to audiences around the world, teaching people about what he calls “a moral and spiritual challenge.”
“Reality is continuing to get louder in our consciousness,” he said. “It’s knocking on the door. If we can connect the dots more quickly, we’ll be better off.” Gore pauses for a moment, not because he is unsure, but because he is choosing his words carefully. “We just need to expand the limits of the imaginable.”