What do you Desire?
We always think about the effects that humans – and our technology – have on plants, but what about the effects that plants have on us?
In The Botany of Desire, Michael Pollan (yes, he’s the author of “In Defense of Foods”) walks us through the history of four different plants – potatoes, apples, marijuana and tulips – that have managed to change our lives. Each of these plants contains a defining characteristic that has played on human’s desires for hundreds of years and has enabled it to survive and expand over time.
Whether it is the sweetness of the apple or the beauty of the tulip, these plants have managed to find a weakness in our senses that has led to the mass production of these particular goods.
The style of the documentary is particularly interesting because it is a subject that is very difficult to visualize on screen. How do you show the legend on Johnny Appleseed or the 1600 Dutch economic crisis that occurred because of the desire for tulips?
- Visual reenactments – A shadowy figure of Johnny Appleseed roaming through villages with a bag of seeds.
- Interviews – Michael Pollan talking directly to the camera and telling stories of each plant.
- Aesthetics – There are so many striking visuals to hold the viewer’s attention, whether it is a long shot of carts driving endlessly around a tulip exporting business or a close shot of apples being picked and turned into hard cider.
Overall, this is a must watch. While the tempo can become a bit slow at times and the visual reenactments vary somewhere between awkward and cheesy, there is a level of difficulty that comes with tackling a topic of this magnitude. The effectiveness of the documentary as a whole is impressive and it’s informative nature cannot be overlooked.
Besides, don’t you want to be able to tell your dinner party friends how the tulip drove an entire country mad?