I Am Greta Review
“Humanity sees nature as a bottomless bag of candy, that we can just take as much as we want. So one day, nature will probably strike back in some way. I don’t know exactly how. But there’s everything from heat waves to disease or lack of water, which will be a problem in the future. Then we are all kind of small in that context.”
In September of 2018, a 15-year-old Swedish girl began to spend every Friday sitting outside the Parliament House in Stockholm. Her aim was to draw attention to the climate crisis, and she planned to stay there every Friday until the upcoming election began. Over time, more and more people began to sit with her. They listened to her speak, she was interviewed for television and almost overnight Greta Thunberg was a household name. The “school strike for the climate” spread to young people all over the world.
I Am Greta takes little interest in the climate crisis in any real detail, focusing more on Greta herself. There are mentions of the Paris Agreement, the Albedo effect, the Keeling Curve, but no real explanation of what they are. A huge amount of time is spent on the journeys she takes around the world (only ever by electric car, boat, train or bus - she refuses to fly) to visit officials and attend various summits, meetings and conferences where she has been invited to speak about climate change. Focus is placed on her diagnosis of Asperger’s syndrome, how it affects her life and relationships (you can read our article about the representation of autism in film here). You see her obsessing over the correct grammar for an upcoming speech, her father Svanta saying it doesn’t matter as it's being said out loud, but to her it does matter. It must be correct. She dances to expel her excess frustration and energy, and spends time brushing and caring for the animals in her home. They examine what led to her diagnosis, the depression and anxiety, times when she has had selective mutism, and they show her sitting alone to eat lunch at school. These are things that will be so familiar to any autistic’s watching, and their families.
Her Asperger’s syndrome is presented honestly as a double-edged sword, allowing her the focus to dedicate her life to a single cause with absolute certainty and confidence. Whilst also opening her up to those who wish to attack her because of her perceived social and mental weaknesses. The documentary is overwhelmingly positive in its portrayals of the worldwide responses to Greta, but one brief segment shows how many people in positions of power have attempted to undermine her, often reducing themselves to ableist slurs and childish insults. One journalist mentions that she “suffers from Asperger’s syndrome" which sees Greta respond with a confused expression before saying “I wouldn’t say I suffer, but yes, I have it."
Many have accused Greta of being a puppet for her parents. On the contrary, Svante travels with a constant expression of concern occasionally giving way to pride, ever patient with the journey’s taking days longer than they would by plane, and also agreeing to a vegan diet thanks to her strong powers of persuasion. Greta's mother Malena remains at home with her sister and dogs she misses so much (because they can’t talk on the phone) and while she is clearly incredibly proud of her little girl, the wedge of climate change pulling the family in two is difficult to bear. Underneath it all, Greta is still a child. Images of her bedroom at home show stacks of cuddly toys, and home videos reveal the normal childhood she had before she embarked on this difficult mission.
Greta mostly faces these obstacles with stoicism, especially in the beginning. She believes that the steps she is taking and the people she is talking to will really make a difference. Unfortunately, as time goes by and few steps are taken to enact change, cracks in her demeanour begin to appear. She cries on a boat taking her to America as the journey is making her sick and she misses home. You can see that she is beginning to believe nothing will change, but she still must try. Her dedication is completely unwavering in spite of everything she faces.
As I Am Greta progresses, you slowly begin to align yourself with her. Moments of pride and frustration are there to be felt as well as watched, and the fact she is only 16 by the time the documentary ends is never far from your mind. Greta claims that the politicians have stolen her childhood, something much maligned and mocked by those who oppose her. Watching this documentary, you can see that she is right.
I Am Greta is available on Hulu from November 13.