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“Woman at War” Delves into Complexities of Climate Change

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“Woman at War” Delves into Complexities of Climate Change

Ron Chernow's autobiography of George Washington,

Ron Chernow's autobiography of George Washington, "Washington: A Life," presents a compelling narrative. (Facebook)

Ron Chernow's autobiography of George Washington, "Washington: A Life," presents a compelling narrative. (Facebook)

Ron Chernow's autobiography of George Washington, "Washington: A Life," presents a compelling narrative. (Facebook)


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By Matthew Dillon

The 2018 Icelandic film, “Woman at War,” follows Halla (Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir) on her lone quest to sabotage an aluminum plant.

She sees the facility as an attack on the ecosystem and destroys transmission towers dotting the Icelandic highlands in hopes of bringing production to a halt. But as Halla’s plans near completion, a fortunate yet unexpected turn of events forces her to choose between her mission and her other aspirations.

“Woman at War” is a unique mix of action, drama and comedy driven by believable characters. More notably, the movie provides an effective environmental narrative, something that is sorely lacking in cinema as well as other media. “Woman at War” examines the complex issues surrounding climate change, not at the expense of its story, but to its benefit.

The film has a strong foundation in its themes, in contrast with the long tradition of subpar movies that co-opt important issues to appear meaningful. This is most evident in the handling of the protagonist and her personal journey.

Halla amounts to more than just her green ideals, though they form a core part of her identity. The film presents her as a human being rather than a flawless paragon.

We see Halla’s brilliance and determination not only through her successes, but also through her quick solutions to mistakes. Geirharðsdóttir gives the character a complexity matching the issues the film highlights.

Her work is even more impressive in a scene when she literally argues with herself, as the actress who plays Halla also plays her detached guru sister, Asa. That small bit of movie magic is sold by Geirharðsdóttir’s superb acting, rather than by special effects. The film’s promotion of the importance of climate change works mainly because it is delivered through such a well-rounded character.

“Woman at War” thankfully has strengths outside of its effective protagonist. Instead of idly villainizing Halla’s largely unseen industrial adversaries, the film prioritizes showing what she is striving to protect. The drawn-out chases and espionage occur in the Icelandic highlands, which “Woman at War” presents as both beautiful and foreboding.

The film uses Iceland’s scenery to its fullest, not just as a visual element, but to tie in to its environmental themes. The action scenes that take place there are just as well done as the funny and intense moments are exciting, without clashing with the film’s otherwise grounded tone.

“Woman at War” lacks the violence, big set pieces and choppy editing that define the modern thriller genre. In its place is genuine intelligence that makes the film much better than if it had followed the usual path.

Despite this, the film loses a bit of momentum towards the end, as the climax feels a little contrived. The film’s sense of comedy primarily relies on irony, coincidence and a certain subdued absurdity.

The latter quality is best shown by the band that provides the soundtrack. They go almost completely unacknowledged by the characters, despite their obvious presence. Even with the tone established by such elements, the ending stretches believability. It at least brings the characters’ development arcs to a satisfying close.

While not perfect, the film’s resolution touches on the core issue most face in the fight against climate change. At a certain point, one has to choose between the life they want and the future of the world they live in. It also reminds the viewer that a global crisis cannot be fixed by a single person and that no one can ignore these problems.

Regardless of its slightly weak ending, “Woman at War” is a refreshingly complete and important movie. The worsening state of the environment is a paralyzing, unavoidable problem. It often seems like very few people are willing to talk about climate change, much less a possible solution.

“Woman at War” delves into the complexities of this vital issue without diminishing its importance. The movie’s strong production reminds us that nothing in our world exists in a vacuum, in addition to telling a fulfilling story. “Woman at War” is currently playing at the IFC Center.

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“Woman at War” Delves into Complexities of Climate Change