In an age awash with climate change denialism and make-believe science, Luc Jacquet’s Ice and the Sky is an uncompromising rebuttal to anthropocentric delusions of an everlasting human planet. We know that Earth is fast becoming uninhabitable, in part, thanks to glaciologist Claude Lorius’ pioneering work in Antarctica, which has been instrumental in linking the levels of greenhouse gases in the earth’s atmosphere and climate change. Prioritising the personal over the persuasive, Jacquet’s documentary Ice and the Sky recounts Lorius’ story from adventure-hungry young man to white-haired, world climate expert while offering a stirring hagiography of the Earth’s icy wonders.

The pulse of Jacquet’s film is Lorius’ unwavering thirst for knowledge. Lorius came of age in the post-war science boom as Antarctica transformed from an icy desert wilderness to be conquered, to a site of scientific interest to be understood. The spirit of adventure among this first cohort of scientists however, was no less alive than their pioneering predecessors. Lorius weathered 200km/h winds and a cabin temperature of -18 degrees celsius for a year on his first trip to Antarctica where he began research on snow crystals, discovering that the ratio of light and heavy hydrogen atoms in each corresponded to air temperature on a given day.

The hard scientific edges of Jacquet’s film are brought together by a more poetic core. At its centre is the unswerving idealism of Lorius, whose love of the ice appears as unmovable as Antarctica’s deepest vaults. “I shall forever be 23,” (his age when he first visited Antarctica) says Lorius towards the end of the film, as we see him treading through a snowy expanse, a symbolic retracing of the preserved footprints of his past. His gentle, unflashy narration – spoken over tinted archive footage – manages to be both an intimate autobiography of himself, and an urgent siren call for all of humankind.

Lorius’ major scientific achievement on greenhouse gases followed on from his work on crystals, though the actual breakthrough was more accident than carefully executed experiment; on adding ancient ice to a glass of whisky during one of his many Antarctic expeditions, Lorius speculated that these bubbles could be studied for their gas content. Drilling deep down into the ice could by extension liberate these perfectly preserved fossils of air and shed light on the relationship between temperature change and levels of carbon dioxide. That global warming is something of a banal – if deeply alarming – scientific fact today is only through the visionary work of people such as Lorius whose sophisticated research was in fact a combined effort of French researchers and American logistics operators at a Soviet drilling station – proof that petty nationalist posturing is no match for global mindedness when it comes to planetary matters.

Individual responses to climate anxiety vary from the severely moralistic to the flatly apathetic. Luc Jacquet spoke about his own sense of obligation to not just witness, but create, out of this uncertain atmosphere: “I could make endless contemplative films about the beauty of nature,” he says. “But it would not have been right to do so. We have to deal with this; it’s our duty. It’s like the war. You want a quiet life with your family but you have to say: I cannot accept this. You have to get out of a comfortable area and into the political. You must participate in the society in which you live. If we do not … ” he trails off, perhaps the only logical response to the unfathomable future of an expired planet. 



Ice and the Sky never descends into heavy didacticism or diatribes against climate deniers; form mirrors subject in that Jacquet’s documentary is as tightly wrought as Lorius’ singular dedication to the work at hand. This refusal to persuade however, makes the film’s message no less persuasive; Ice and the Sky ends on an unmistakably rousing note. Jacquet reveals that predicted futures needn’t be represented by endless charts and fear-mongering CGI animations, but rather by the story of a single life, that of Claude Lorius; the planetary can be articulated through the personal. It’s all there, just as humanity’s past, is forever inscribed in ice.



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