David Suzuki can still carry his own torch

Taking the stage at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver last December, 75-year-old David Suzuki is the picture of passionate health.

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Force of Nature:

The David Suzuki Movie

2/4 stars

92 minutes. PG

Taking the stage at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts in Vancouver last December, 75-year-old David Suzuki is the picture of passionate health.

So what’s this stuff about getting ready to pass the torch? About the creeping countdown of mortality and the very idea of legacy? If you ask me, Suzuki looks like he’s got years to spare before that spark flickers out.

Besides, there’s no one in Force of Nature: The David Suzuki Movie who so much as blows in that spark’s direction. If it burns, it burns without any threat of countervailing pressure, and that’s why the end result is something like a perfectly preserved ecosystem in a biosphere. Vital in its way and certainly pleasing to behold, but completely insulated from anything that might threaten it.

Which is to say that Force of Nature is not the movie you want to see if you want to see Suzuki in any way challenged, contradicted or even simply questioned. Although it provides some diverting information by way of the man’s background and upbringing – the most arresting of which has to do with his experiences as a second-generation Japanese Canadian whose family was interned during the Second World War and expelled from its British Columbia home. It otherwise depicts Suzuki’s ascendancy from floral-shirted hippie-scientist to public broadcasting fixture to fiery but lovable environmentalist simply as a matter of, well, natural evolution.

In the same way that Suzuki insists that all matter is connected on the particle level and bound to each other by attractive energies he likens to love, the movie itself is content to accept the man as a kind of primal agent of global consciousness. A force of nature, indeed.

It’s a curious and overly cautious vacuum to put the man in, especially considering that the environmental movement has had such a fascinating, and escalating, history of contention, controversy and backlash. To his considerable credit, Suzuki was not only at the vanguard of this discussion, he was doing it in a medium – television, on CBC’s The Nature of Things – that spoke in terms most people not only understood but cared about. Stripped of this context, Suzuki is left to stand alone onstage, leaving only long enough to guide the director on trips to significant childhood spots and sites (like Hiroshima) instrumental to the process of becoming Suzuki, icon and, as the opening titles have it, “Godfather of Canadian environmentalism.

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