Promised Land—– As Promised

Promised Land is Matt Damon’s most recent film, and is in fact a project of a rising star, John Krasinski. It also features Francis McDormand and the inimitable Hal Holbrook who once again graces the screen with a beautiful supporting role performance. With this sort of cast you would expect some good performances and these actors do not disappoint. The movie is quite fast-paced and it’s done before you know it (1 hour and 46 minutes later). There is no filler here, no dead spots.

The scene is small farming town Pennsylvania and the issue is fracking— the breaking of the shale to release natural gas from deep underground. The environmental issue is that this process has not infrequently led to the poisoning of the wells and the water supply in the land, and thus the death of the farm. You can look it up online and read about the problems with fracking. There are many.

But the real focus of the movie is not to blow the environmentalist horn. The real focus is on the future of small time family-owned farming in America, and whether, without continued subsidies, it even has a future. A town is asked to vote up or down as to whether to let Global into their community drilling all over the place to find natural gas. The real focus is on the people, and whether people and a traditional healthy American way of life or greed is going to win out. It doesn’t look good for the former.

To give you some perspective, at the beginning of the 20th century, about 66% or more percentage of all Americans lived on farms or in nearby small towns. That is, a majority of us. In 2000 it was about a tenth of that. And what we lose when we lose small town farming communities is a lot. I’m not talking about agri-business, busily subsidized and pork barreled by our dear old Congress (and please could we cut that out of our 2013 budget). I’m talking what was once the only form of farming.

So as it turns out, this film is really about people and their values, and what sort of future we want for our children and grandchildren. Do we want to take the short term gain of drill baby drill, while ruining a good deal of the land, and shutting down farm after farm. Shall we just import all our food from China? Or do we want to support local farmers, homegrown products and the like. Of course its not just that simple, in a global economy, but it is a matter of priorities.

The real kicker is this— if Americans had been willing to support the furniture industry and the textile industry in which I was raised and worked, by paying a little more for American made things, we would still have such industries in America. Instead, we are always suckers for the cheapest thing, the lowest price, even if it constantly undercuts local small businesses everywhere. And of course the same is true about our groceries and farming. When I talk to kids at schools and ask them where food comes from, they almost universally answer— the grocery store. It’s sad.

I give credit to this little film (which interestingly was partly funded by Imagination… a group out of Abu Dabi!!) for raising the right issues, and presenting both sides of the story— the risks and the rewards of fracking. The rewards of course are purely monetary.

The risk is losing a beautiful value-laden way of living, and living close to the land. When I pastored in rural Randolph County N.C. I loved spending time with my hog farmers, turkey farmers, chicken farmers. They were straight shooters, salt of the earth, and would do anything for me or our churches. They didn’t have a lot of money, but they had plenty of integrity and honesty and pride in what they did.

Full marks to this film for presenting us with the possibility that even a person fully committed to one side of the issue could have a change of heart when the evidence became clearer. I believe in change. And with my fellow Kentuckian and poet Wendell Berry I believe in farming, and being close to the land. The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof. And one more thing— if you dance with the Devil, it may be fun for a while, but eventually, you get burned.

  • Stephen

    Films like this often bash you over the head with their political agenda and try to tell you what to think. I usually avoid these type movies whether I agree with their point of view or not.

  • Tom Schuessler

    Sorry I’m not with you on this one. You got caught up in the message and did not do your usual good review of the craft of the film. I’m not sure about Pennsylvania but I know that new jobs from the revived oil and gas industry have been a huge help to the poor people of Ohio where my son Joe works.

  • Steve Billingsley

    So the irony of an anti-fracking film funded at least partially by a group from an oil-rich nation that could lose market share if natural gas production increased in geographies that traditionally didn’t produce was somehow missed?

    Kind of like Al Gore selling out to Al Jazeera.

    Fracking, like any form of energy production, is not without concerns (environmental and other). But the part of the population hit hardest by the economy that has been hit the hardest since 2008 (males without college degrees) actually benefits the most from the development of the fracking industry. In other words, there are several sides to this issue.

  • Patrick

    While I do not accept the AGW threat as sound science at this point, IF it is, there is simply no solution within reason except a massive upscale in natural gas usage. Fracking is making that happen, fast.

    If we do away with it, we’re going to use more oil and coal. There is no solution other than natural gas.

    Solar is outrageously expensive, wind power is limited in potential and no one likes nuclear energy and the option of “using less” will be driven by raising prices outrageously, making life impossible for average folks.

    If we want to “emit less”, NG is the solution and God seems to have created an earth that generates tons and tons of it and fairly rapidly at that.
    Notably, the USA is in a downtrend of less emissions right now due to our economy and fracking.

  • Glenn Gilda

    Ben,
    I’ve enjoyed reading your blog and have often found it thought-provoking. I wasn’t expecting a post on fracking, and decided to reply with a few thoughts.

    As someone who lives near the heart of PA fracking country (I live in would-be fracking country, just across the border from PA in NY where there’s currently a moratorium), I’ve read and heard lots of perspectives from both sides of the fracking debate. Unfortunately, it seems to me that there’s a lot of half-truths spoken on both sides of the issue, and figuring out what the facts really are on fracking can be difficult. While I don’t expect a film to show me much in the way of facts, perhaps it can at least challenge us to consider what the real issues are.

    I have to respectfully disagree with Patrick’s post which seems to suggest that fracking is the only solution to AGW (which I do believe is sound science, although the ultimate future effects are clearly not fully known). I’m aware of at least one study which has called into question the assertion that NG produced by fracking reduces greenhouse gas omissions when compared to oil or coal (see http://www.news.cornell.edu/stories/April11/GasDrillingDirtier.html).

    I also appreciate the reference to Wendell Berry, whose writings I also find thought-provoking (in particular, The Way of Ignorance). We have started buying more of our food locally partly due to his influence.


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