I recently watched HOW TO BLOW UP A PIPELINE (2022) on Google Play and was impressed at the incredible balancing act displayed in this portrayal of a group of Americans who decide violence is justified as self defense against energy corporations during the climate crisis.
The movie rolls out as a kind of 70s or 80s thriller movie, though the protagonists aren’t protecting the free world from terrorists. They are the terrorists. From various walks of life, these people have all been deeply impacted in some way by the climate crisis, and they’ve decided peaceful protest isn’t accomplishing anything. There’s a woman poisoned by chemicals emitted by a nearby refinery, a red-blooded Texan family man enraged the government seized his land to run a pipeline through it, a pair of punks who want to break the system, and others. Together, they decide to build bombs and blow up an oil pipeline. The entire movie is them carrying out their plan.
The movie is based on a book by Andreas Malm, a manifesto that declares that as peaceful protest cannot curb carbon emissions, all people have a moral obligation to take other measures, even violent measures, to protect the environment they rely on to survive. This idea is put to the test as they question themselves and how others might see their action, and we’re given backstories so we understand what exactly brought them to this. The result for many viewers I think will be, “I can see why they’re doing it, but there has to be a better way. Is there?” The filmmakers leave it up to the viewer to decide the morality, which I appreciated, though they also don’t shy away from implied endorsement. Honestly, I was amazed this movie got made at all.
In the end, I loved this one–boldly original, immensely provocative, straightforward and never preachy or show-offy, and thrilling and troubling in equal measure. While watching it, my partner and I paused it several times for long discussions about the ethical and moral issues involved. One thing I concluded is that right now capitalism and governments have a chance to solve the climate crisis. If it doesn’t, a growing number of people may take matters into their own hands, and this kind of thing may stop being fiction.