Science Fiction Film & Television

Climate change, ‘Anthropocene unburials’ and agency on a thawing planet

Science Fiction Film & Television (2021), 14, (3), 375–393.

Abstract

Three narratives from different historical moments - the US film The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms (1953), the US/Canadian film The Thaw (2009) and the first season of the British television series Fortitude (2015) - disclose shifts in the imagining of prehistoric creatures emerging from thawing ice, and all three thus intervene in evolving discourses surrounding climate change, nature and agency (both human and nonhuman). Beast was released at what many scientists have declared the very beginning of the ‘Anthropocene’ - that geological era marked by humans as primary shapers of planetary life. An iconic film of the Atomic Age, Beast features a thawed creature from Earth’s prehistory, and the fault-lines are sharply drawn between it and the humans who unknowingly unleashed it. Although the consequences of nuclear testing (along with the notion of the ‘Anthropocene’) were decades in the future, Beast imagines those consequences with startling and destructive clarity. In the twenty-first century, the long-term effects of nuclear energy, and industrial global capitalism more generally, have become strikingly evident. The thawed creatures of both Fortitude and The Thaw have neither the visibility nor the separateness of the ‘Beast’ from 1953, however. Tracing increasingly entangled notions of existence, culpability and responsibility in the Anthropocene era, these twenty-first-century creatures incubate within human hosts, becoming interwoven with the human, and thus complicate familiar notions of agency.

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Keetley, Dawn