The Cost of Human Advancement is Nature – Reflections on the Movie “The Mermaid” By Stephen Chow


If the Earth does not even contain a sip of clear, drinkable water or an atom of clean air, then there would be no point for human beings to pursue for wealth and profit since survival would be an impossibility.

—From Prologue

Back in the ancient times, human beings live in harmony with the fishes and other creatures. More broadly speaking, they live in harmony with every other component of the entire ecosystem. Their swelling greed brings increased ambitions, which ironically leads to innovation and technological advancements.  The Mermaid told a story about sustainability and restoration, a tragedy about destruction and reconstruction, and a satire about the societal advancement and desire. It is not only rare for a Chinese movie to talk about catastrophes and failure of mankind, sustainability is also a rare breed to be observed on the big screens. This may have proven, partly, the point made by Jennifer Elks in her comments about the new trends of sustainability with China on a rise with the Millennial generation.

In the movie, the Company owned by the protagonist purchased an entire gulf, with the will to profit by landfilling the water bodies and building high rises. The “ethical” and “sustainable” methodology was to emit sonar into deep sea levels, to dive away the fishes and planktons through severe injuries or death. The scientists also pursued a differentiation strategy by using sonar with unique wavelengths for identified species of different mass.  One of the most striking scenes for me was the hundreds and thousands of plastic bottles that were tied together, hanging from the stony ceiling of the cliff. Ocean plastics, after being disposed inaccurately, become nightmare for the creatures. Nevertheless, I feel that pure statistics and graphics have their limits. Human learn by experience, and until they are able to fully immerse and experience the agony imposed by their actions, it may be difficult to trigger an alternation of behaviour. Moreover, it would also be much more effective if we are able to physically experience a catastrophe. This is about learning the lesson in the hard way, which internalizes the values and beliefs. Although the price paid is grand, the volume of thought-provoking, follow up campaigns can also be more powerful, more trustworthy, and more effective.

I always feel that change cannot be achieved with an individual. The need to change and the desired action is often invented, by a group of individuals, with the objective to gain more influence. However, human beings seem to generally be a passive responder, reacting only to unavoidable consequences and responsibilities. There are still sometime before the environment becomes the one and single pressing issue that can no longer be ignored. The normative analysis tells people to become active and engaged, while the positive analysis indicates that people are putting their dependence on each other, without truth progressing as a unity.




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  1. While I didn’t see this film in the theatres, I saw it advertised online and was rather intrigued by the title. You mentioned in your post that “sustainability is a rare breed to be observed on the big screens” and I completely agree with you. Given that the primary objective of most film production companies is to generate high profit margins, they are often inclined to make box office “hits” that have little to no lasting impact on the audience. Most of the films that focus on the importance of sustainability are documentaries that are made on a low budget, receive minimal exposure, and are rarely featured in movie theatres.

    With environmental issues, such as climate change, beginning to attract widespread media attention, I was happy to learn about a recent partnership between IMAX theatres and the United Nations Environmental Program (UNEP). The purpose of the initiative, entitled the “Big Picture”, is to use IMAX to “leverage the power of film to raise awareness and promote appreciation for the ‘big picture’ – the understanding that actions we take in our daily lives can significantly impact the future of the planet” (UN News Centre, 2016). The partnership will focus on funding, producing and launching charitable premieres for “sustainability-themed films” that relate to many issues outlined in UN’s 2030 goals for sustainable development (ie. climate change, eradicating poverty). If you are interested in seeing another sustainability-related film, IMAX will be releasing “A Beautiful Planet” in theatres on April 29th.

    For more information about this partnership, you can visit: – .VvC2hTaIdw8

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