Genre: Environmental Documentary
Year Released: 2012
Distributor: Blenheim Films/First Pond Entertainment
Running Time: 97 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 13+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Bananas!*, The Corporation, An Inconvenient Truth, The Burning Season, Under the Dome, Crude, Elemental, Dirt! The Movie
-Trashed was scored by Greek experimental composer Vangelis. You may have heard his music in the soundtracks of Blade Runner, Alexander, and Chariots of Fire.
-This documentary was shown in over 40 countries worldwide in various film festivals.
-Not only did Jeremy Irons narrate and appear in this documentary, but he was an executive producer for Trashed.
I had heard of this documentary in passing, and I figured that I would have to give my two cents on an environmental documentary. To be honest with you, films of all genres don’t know how to tackle this issue. They make it super preachy (see: Fern Gully or Captain Planet) or they can be counterproductive on principle because animation and filmmaking isn’t the most environmentally friendly form of art most of the time if you really think about it. That doesn’t mean I’m against environmental issues, but I’ve been sick of how those issues have been portrayed and botched in the media. How does this British/American documentary hold up when it comes to ecological issues?
Trashed deals with the concept of how waste is dealt with and how it hurts everyone in the world. Jeremy Irons travels to several countries as he gets a firsthand account with how rubbish is collected and finding out about various health hazards across several countries. He personally does research and talks with scientists, environmental experts, business owners, and even everyday people as he finds out the causes, effects, and solutions in dealing with all this trash.
This was certainly a new take on environmental documentaries. Despite my initial reservations on this topic, my eyes were certainly opened to how much garbage is in the world. The first scene with Jeremy Irons walking across this littered beach in Sidon, Lebanon was just disgusting with him trying to beach comb, but couldn’t because of how much pollution was on the shoreline and the Mediterranean. He even points out the nearby countries that could be seen from this Lebanese coastline such as Turkey, Cypress, and even Italy which could all be affected by toxins and chemicals. The other locations even involved first world nations such as England and America that were affected. In Jeremy’s own native England, he found some high toxic levels in the soil of Yorkshire despite the local government saying that the amount didn’t cause health effects despite the evidence proving otherwise with the dirt toxicology reports. Regardless if you’re rich or poor, people can and will be affected by this excess trash and chemicals.
Seeing Jeremy Irons himself in a documentary like this was a surprise in itself. Unlike other documentaries where famous actors are clearly doing this for a quick buck, I felt like he was legitimately concerned about this issue. Not only did he get involved in conducting some science experiments, he also calls out some government agents on negligence, and comforts a Vietnamese family who was affected by a chemical issue (more on that later). With all this darkness, he has a sense of justice about him while also using some deadpan humor when necessary like when he’s picking up cigarette butts on a Welsh beach. He says “I’m feeling holier than thou because I’m not smoking now.” while picking up the used up smokes. It’s funny in hindsight because he’s a big smoker in real life. For those of you who don’t know Jeremy Irons and why it’s surreal with him taking the initiative to make the world more sustainable, it’s because he’s most famous for playing villains. Think about it, this is the same guy who’s played antagonists in movies such as Die Hard With a Vengeance, Dungeons & Dragons, and Dead Ringers to name a few. Oh yeah, that same person is also responsible for voicing Scar for all you Disney fans out there. I’m not even kidding you. Seeing an Oscar-award winning actor most famous for playing evil characters being involved in an independent documentary project was a fascinating contrast given his filmography.
The production for this independent documentary was quite good. Certainly most of the money went to traveling, but the editing and visuals were great. You see both the beautiful and ugly landscapes around the world which were unaffected or affected by pollution. There are some CGI and graphics to illustrate the stats which were well done. I did dock some of the production a bit for some aliasing and minor pixelation when I watched the DVD, but it was just a minor issue. The music handled by Vangelis was alright, but I thought some of the tracks were too bombastic for certain scenes by making something sound more overdramatic than what it was, but the 2nd half of the film was more restrained which I appreciated.
One scene that really broke my heart was the Vietnam section. Those segments alone will make you feel horrible with what just happened. Jeremy Irons visits Ho Chi Minh City to find out the aftereffects of Agent Orange which was the infamous deforesting chemical used during the Vietnam War. The chemicals are still in the soil to this day and for decades, the effects of Agent Orange involved birth defects. Watching Jeremy Irons walk into a hospital to find severely deformed stillborn babies in jars was just sobering. Watching his face as he sees these preserved baby corpses, you could feel his restrained sorrow and near disbelief with how this deforesting toxin destroyed lives even decades after that war. He even visits a different part of the hospital where several nurses and doctors have to take care of children with missing limbs, enlarged heads, atrophied arms or legs, and one child has missing eyes. Watching them suffer from something that wasn’t their fault can make some people cry. Jeremy then visits a family where they have a young daughter born without arms or legs where he interviews them and comforts them. The mom said that both her and her husband were industrial workers, but the mother had to stay home to take care of her deformed daughter. She was then forced to sell lottery tickets just to make ends meet to take care of her family. This was just saddening to see all this. Just be warned when you get to that part of Trashed should you watch it.
While Trashed was a powerful documentary, there were some areas that didn’t hit the mark. There was a lack of follow-up for some of the stories in different countries. I understand that the filmmakers could only do so much with limited time per nation or finding people that refused to talk, but I wanted to see more with things like the Iceland situation with the incinerator. I also have to admit that the last half hour of the film did meander when they were talking about environmentally friendly businesses or the recycling industries. They had some good points, but they didn’t have as much impact like the first 2/3rd of the documentary. It did get boring in that period of time during that last third, but I did think it was interesting how there was that shop in England where people had to bring their own bags and containers for things as a way to limit paper and plastic waste.
Trashed was definitely one of the better environmental docs out there. I enjoyed how they went to multiple continents to show that anyone can be affected by pollution regardless of race or class. There was a human element when they showed people who were directly or indirectly affected by trash, toxins, or whatever. It was also refreshing to see an actor who actually cares about an issue and you can actually believe that they want to do something about it, and it just happened to be Jeremy Irons of all people in contrast to the types of characters he typically plays in various movies. Trashed does have a strong first 2/3rds, but it does get flat in the final third of the film. There are some strong arguments made and I was able to rethink ways on how to limit trash. I also liked how they brought up how companies limit the exposure of environmental damages kind of like how Bananas!* did with the agriculture industry. Trashed was a solid documentary to watch.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1 point if you care about environmental issues
Add 1 point if you’re a Jeremy Irons fan
Subtract 2 points if you get uncomfortable seeing horrific images of pollution or toxins
-Great cinematography and graphics
-Honest approach without ulterior motives in the presentation
-Powerful stories (Vietnam and Iceland being highlights)
-Some bombastic tracks from Vangelis
-Loses some focus in the final 3rd of the film
-Lack of follow-up on some stories
Final Score: 8/10 points
Content Warning: Teens and up. Jeremy Irons does drop a bleeped out F-bomb when he starts his experiment of soil toxicology when he loses his stick for landmarking purposes. There is some gore when they dissect some animals that have died from trash. The big ones would be disturbing images from the Vietnam scenes with the dead deformed infants in jars and seeing living deformed limbs of some of the children taken care of in the local hospital.
All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws.