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Movies, dining and things to do / Spokane and North Idaho

‘Io’: a Netlix look at the end of the world


Looking around for interesting films to review, I checked out a just-released Netflix original titled "Io." And then I wrote a review for Spokane Public Radio:

At last count – and this comes directly from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration – “97 percent or more of actively publishing climate scientists agree (that) climate-warming trends over the past century are extremely likely due to human activities.”

Yet no matter how many scientists speak out, recent polls indicate that maybe as much as 40 percent of the American public isn’t going to believe them. Such willful ignorance can and does affect public policy, especially when the leader of the so-called Free World is commander in chief of the skeptics. That’s the bad news.

The good news? Any such sad state of affairs merely fuels the imagination of science-fiction writers and filmmakers.

Take, for example, the Netflix original film “Io.” Set some time in the not-too-distant future, “Io” – directed by the French-born filmmaker Jonathan Helpert – tells the story of an Earth whose atmosphere is gradually becoming too poisonous for humans to breath.

In fact, most humans have left Earth, forsaking their ruined home planet for life on Io, presumably the most habitable of Jupiter’s 67 moons. Those few who remain include Sam (played by Margaret Qualley, last seen in Maggie Betts’ 2017 film “Novitiate”). Sam is the daughter of Henry Walden (played by Danny Huston), a renowned scientist who is convinced that the Earth can still be saved.

The research that he and Sam conduct takes place at a site set at an altitude where the air is still breathable. And their research involves bees, the hope being that they can somehow make the bees immune to the toxic air. And if the bees can survive, then why not humans?

Yet time is running out: Storms are battering the Earth, breathable air is dissipating and the last few rockets heading off-planet are leaving soon.

Sam, though, isn’t easily thwarted. She stays on task even when a storm ransacks her bee hives, when her off-world boyfriend tells her he is joining a deep-space expedition, and even when a helium-powered balloon floats into her yard and Micah (played by Anthony Mackie) emerges, looking for her father. Throughout it all, Sam remains convinced that some solution can be found.

And why not? Turns out Sam is harboring secrets, few of which are particularly hard for anyone paying attention to figure out. One involves the sores on her midriff. Another involves the fact that her father seems to be taking an overly long time to return from his latest research trek.

Dystopian studies have been in fashion since the days of H.G. Wells, whose 1898 novel “The War of the Worlds” was the source of Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast. They became particularly popular following World War II, when the biggest threat seemed to be posed by nuclear war. In recent years, the major menaces have included zombie plagues, humankind’s continuing penchant for violence and the revenge of Mother Nature.

“Io” focuses on that latter-most concern. And even if the manner in which it unfolds is, in the end, fairly pedestrian, the message it strives to make definitely is not.

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