When the then 15-year-old Greta Thunberg sat down in front of the Swedish parliament in August 2018 with a cardboard sign to demonstrate for more climate protection, they addressed only three passers-by throughout the day. Less than a year later, millions of young people worldwide took to the streets at Fridays for Future – also in her name. She was awarded the Alternative Nobel Prize and was named Person of the Year by TIME Magazine.
In terms of her popularity, the Stockholm student has achieved a meteoric rise within a few months, the likes of which are otherwise only known from pop sensations. But is Greta Thunberg therefore simply the new Justin Bieber? If you watch Nathan Grossman’s documentary “I Am Greta”, the thought might come to you in any case. After all, the from nobody-to-superstar structure, including the screaming teenage masses and homestory-with-a-dog moments, could be used one-to-one for a one-direction reportage.
In the beginning, they only approached a handful of people about their action.
So is this the most appropriate way to approach Greta Thunberg and the worldwide protest movement she has sparked on the big screen? Probably not. But ironically, “I Am Greta” with its euphoric style, which is first and foremost geared towards the personality cult, underlines exactly the one point that comes across particularly well in this cinema documentary and therefore offers real added value compared to the numerous TV reports.
Apart from her public appearances, in which she gives even the most powerful heads of state a hard-hitting speech, there are always quiet moments in which Greta Thunberg reflects on the status of her mission. The absolute concentration on her climate concern also has to do with the Asperger syndrome – and this focus is never lost, even between crowds of people and presidential visits. She is painfully aware that popularity is not an end in itself – and that she has made little progress in her actual concern.
A modern Don Quixote
While the whole world cheers her (or rather insults her in the social media, which at one point she is deliciously amused about in a mean tweets style), in the film we see a Greta Thunberg who is increasingly desperate that the powerful adults are not finally taking the heavy burden off her narrow shoulders. She simply doesn’t understand why heads of state want to have a selfie with her – but then do nothing or at least not enough for the climate. Greta Thunberg is – at least until now – a tragically failed heroine, a modern Don Quixote …
… and as you can see in “I Am Greta”, she knows this best of all herself. The strongest scenes in the film show her on a sailing ship on her way across the Atlantic to the World Climate Conference in New York. She is crouching there all alone, desperate, crying and fearful, because she doesn’t really want to do all this anymore, but she can’t help it either, because she is not prepared to simply block out the catastrophes that are approaching us from her mind like other people.
… but only a few months later millions of people took to the streets inspired by her.
That would have been a great ending, because it would have made it clear that it was time to take responsibility for the disaster, instead of hoping that Greta and the Friday-for-Future teenagers would somehow fix it. But instead, at the end, there are pictures of the ceremonial arrival in the Big Apple and of young people taking to the streets around the globe.
Thus, “I Am Greta” leaves you with a deceptively optimistic, almost reassured and euphoric feeling. This is just the exact opposite of what Greta Thunberg demanded in one of her most famous speeches: “I want you to panic!
Conclusion: Although Greta Thunberg repeatedly warns against it, director Nathan Grossman himself falls into the Messiah trap in several places. Nevertheless, the documentary “I Am Greta” is convincing, apart from the expected goose bumps, especially when the protagonist reflects on her mission on her own, away from the masses and cell phone cameras – for example on a small sailing boat in the middle of the Atlantic.