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Earth Day Film Review: A Sense of Wonder

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As Earth Day approaches, I find it fitting to recommend an unusual film, called A Sense of Wonder (2008), about the dusk of Rachel Carson's life. Kaiulani Lee wrote and produced the 55-minute piece and also plays that most quintessential of female environmentalists.

It's a quiet film, one that asks us to set aside our hunger for over-dramatic portrayals of human conflict; watching it feels like a meditation of sorts. During the opening scenes, it might take a few minutes to get used to the unconventional format that perhaps can best be described as a mockumentary with a serious tone. Once you get your footing, however, it'll be hard not to be won over by Carson's utter reverence for nature and how she put that love to work.

In what's essentially a one-woman performance, an imagined Carson speaks from the end of her life, as though to an invisible but always-inquiring journalist. She recalls her childhood, her years as a scientist, her first successes with writing, her adopted son, her convictions against pesticides that led (forced, one might say) her to write Silent Spring - and the breast cancer that ultimately silenced her. One walks away with great respect for this woman's dignity and willingness to stand by her truths even in the face of what, to someone else, would have been soul-shattering criticism.

Given the subject matter, the film could easily have crossed into the territory of being overly earnest, but stopped just shy of that. The result is a highly recommendable portrait of an extraordinary woman.

Currently screening throughout the U.S.; to plan a screening or watch the trailer, see the film's website. Also available on DVD.

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