137 “Fern Gully” Won’t Save Us

Shannon Haley

Way back in February, when the nights were long and cold beyond reason, I attended a climate change talk in the Silver Center. A woman named Adrienne Kovach talked about climate change in the White Mountains (even though she talked about marshes, lakes, and the ocean, too), and at the end of her speech she laid out the issues and possible solutions. Ironically enough, she made a point of saying that warming trends across the globe are one of the biggest issues with species survival. Yes, damage has been done; animal populations have declined, “specialist” species are at risk, the moose are being sucked dry by ticks and rising sea levels are jeopardizing populations of birds living in saltwater marshes. But, Kovach argued, there is hope. She stated that “change is inevitable, but mitigation and sustainable development can minimize future impacts on wildlife.” By creating a sense of stewardship throughout the state (and, ideally, the country), steps towards building sustainable communities and maintaining an environment that wildlife can survive in.

In order for us to achieve Kovach’s dream, we need to start thinking of nature as part of us and not something separate from us. We need to be involved in the sustainable development of the world both as individuals and as a community because, as Timothy Morton argues, we cannot continue to look at nature as something “other” and continue to alienate ourselves from it. If we do this, then change is never going to happen and humans are going to “dominate” the world into extinction. But that’s just looking at the worst case scenario. There is, of course, a light at the end of the tunnel. But Ferngully is not part of that light.

In the 1992 film Ferngully: The Last Rain Forest, Crysta, a forest fairy, is able to convince Zak, a “city boy,” that the rain forest itself has feelings; the trees can feel pain, the beetles have emotions and can talk, and there are also a number of fairies like Crysta living in and relying on the forest. Crysta shrinks Zak down to her own size and in doing so, he is able to learn about the forest and becomes enchanted with how beautiful it is. The forests’s arresting beauty convinces him that he needs to protect the forest (just this particular forest) and also to convince others around him that they need to do the same thing. In doing so, the film is sending the message to the audience that they, too, should protect the forest for the sole reason that it is beautiful. The film never talks about the ecological benefits that rain forests provide, and any real species they do show are docile and cute, the exact opposite of how they would be in reality.

Ferngully connects to dark ecology in the way that the film rejects it. Dark ecology is “dark” because it takes into account the realization that nature is not as beautiful as it is made out to be. Once we realize this, we begin to feel an uncanniness in relation to nature because in nature, we can see ourselves and realize that we are in nature and nature is in us, and that makes us feel uncomfortable. Ferngully does not subscribe to the dark ecology theory because, throughout the film, we are shown the bright, exotic qualities of the rain forest, the pristineness, and the happiness it provides. In reality, if a human was in Zak’s position, they would almost immediately become prey and have little chance of survival.

Kovach’s vision is problematic because her ideas rely on people separating themselves from nature; she relies on people realizing the beauty of it in order for them to take action. In her presentation, she had photographs of the northern wilderness which were informing but also seemingly used to say “look, see how pretty our great northern woods are. We need to work to keep them pretty.” Although her underlying message was species preservation, Kovach used the Ferngully appeal to (try) to create a sense of stewardship in her audience and incite change.


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The Student Theorist: An Open Handbook of Collective College Theory Copyright © 2018 by Shannon Haley is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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