Many recent documentaries (some of them excellent) have alerted us to the urgency of reversing human impact on the global environment, usually ending with more or less concrete proposals of what can be (or is being) done to address the challenge. The Age of Stupid approaches the whole issue from the other end, by framing its documentary footage with the scenario that it's too late, that we've already failed to save ourselves. The question it poses to us is why we failed even though the disastrous results of our failure were clearly predictable.
As with good science fiction, the result is thought-provoking not because it presents a plausible future (although it does that), but because it opens up the question of why we do the things we do (even when they are obviously suicidal). It works by replacing some of our habitual assumptions, which are often little more than wishful thinking, with a more scientifically informed and realistic (though fictional) perspective. And the film brings this home to us by focussing on specific people: a young Nigerian woman, an Iraqi family, a French guide who has watched the Alpine glaciers melt for decades, a UK couple trying to reduce their ecological footprint, and an oil company scientist who lost everything to Hurricane Katrina. All of them are, in their different ways, trying to cope with what amounts to a massive oil spill -- more literally, with the effects of Western society's addiction to oil-fueled consumption mania.
Despite what the title may suggest, the film's answer to the question of why we failed to save ourselves is neither simple nor cynical. You have to work it out for yourself, drawing on your empathy with the very real folks who appear in the film. I've seen quite a few films about climate change, but none of them brings out the human depth of the crisis more pointedly or poignantly than this one. -- And on top of that, the cinematography, editing and special effects are impeccable. And so is the performance by the anchor of the whole show, Pete Postlethwaite -- who followed it up by arriving at the film's 2009 premiere on a bicycle, and making his own home more environmentally responsible. [Update January 4, 2011: Pete Postlethwaite died two days ago, at 64, after a long battle with cancer.]