Piercing the ice

Luc Jaquet’s latest eco-film, “Ice and Sky”, both works as a highly engineered, effective jargon-buster, as well as a set of deeper reflections on the nature of climate change research.

Asher Korner
17 December 2015

The eco-film genre has long existed on a cocktail of shocking facts and apocalyptic predictions, and filmmaker Luc Jacquet explicitly shies away from this. Instead, he allows himself to be guided by a man whose discoveries have forever, irrefutably shaped our relation to climate change.

Jacquet’s latest film, “Ice and the Sky” (“la Glace et le Ciel”) traces the life of Claude Lorius, an 80-year-old climatologist, whose work provided early proof of the link between global warming and greenhouse gases. And wrapped up in Lorius’ story, are a set of deeper, profound reflections on mankind’s place within the environment. 

Claude Lorius. Marc Perry/Wild Touch/Eskwad. All rights reserved.“Ice and Sky” is pierced through with a constant memory-scape. Lorius reads chapters of his life to us, describes what each chapter meant to him, and for the world: his first trip to the Antarctic; his return; each piece of the puzzle unfolding. And at the beginning, we are as lost as Lorius, voyaging through extreme conditions and unsure of what we will discover.

“Excitement without adaptation. There is no fakery.”

Footage from his early excursions to the Antarctic are intertwined seamlessly with contemporary clips, with the distinction between the two left unclear, hazy. And when we do realise that we are watching raw, original footage, it’s with a sense of genuine awe. The excitement that these climatologists felt is conveyed without adaptation; there is no fakery.

At times,“Ice and Sky” works as a highly engineered, polished jargon buster, a film that breaks down the theory of climate change into logical pieces, rather than submerged in the language of expertise. 

Antarctic ice plains. Wild Touch/Eskwad. All rights reserved.But Jacquet returns repeatedly, obsessively, to shots of Lorius standing alone amidst huge expanses of ice, dwarfed by the scale of the landmass. How can something so small, for better of for worse, he asks, have such an enormous impact on the environment? 

“Ice and Sky” delves deep into the daily lives and dangers of Lorius and his team – a story of humans enduring the worst that their environment can throw at them, and homage to the human individual’s capacity to do what is necessary. It is a call to all of us to do the same – not literally to cross the Antarctic, but to take on the issue of climate change as a personal responsibility. 


Lorius on one of his excursions. CRNS Fonds Cluade Lorius/Wild Touch/Eskwad. All rights reserved.Jacquet’s film rests on a central image, a eureka moment, when Lorius uses Antarctic ice to cool a glass of whiskey.  A stream of bubbles leaves the ice as it melts in the whiskey, bubbles which contain air trapped at the moment that the ice was formed.  The deeper the ice, the older the air trapped within – a snapshot of history, allowing differences in air composition to be studied, and atmospheric change mapped over time.

Embedded in this captured moment are the ideas that these discoveries are made through a mix of persistence and chance, and that the principles of climate change, in truth, are really quite simple.  

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