The Oil Machine review – timely documentary details our dependence on ‘black gold’

A valuable if somewhat conventional reminder of how our reliance on oil developed and the threats it now poses to life on Earth

As protests against the fossil fuel industry continue to go viral in the news media, Emma Davie’s documentary makes for a valuable resource on the historical background as well as the environmental ramifications of oil drilling in the North Sea. Featuring interviews with those from both sides of the issue, who include environmental experts, executives of oil corporations as well as student activists, the film captures how the black gold permeates every aspect of our daily life.

The expert voices here describe how Britain’s dependence on the oil industry is a relatively new phenomenon, escalated in the 1970s by the discovery of oil reserves in the Forties field off the coast of Aberdeen, Scotland. Following the mass privatisation of these assets under Margaret Thatcher’s government, this natural resource became the lifeblood behind the functioning of Britain as a nation, providing employment, enabling the production of consumer goods, and much more. The film moves on to discuss the bigger picture: how the environmental changes resulting from this ceaseless, industrial extraction of oil lead to increased flooding and natural disasters in countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam. As millions of barrels of oil are produced every day, individual responsibility is simply not enough to make a difference.

While the doomed picture painted by the documentary is harrowing, The Oil Machine succeeds in demonstrating how the global reliance on oil has not always been the norm. Considering the wealth of information, it is a shame that the film’s visual style is rather conventional and the use of music awkward and distracting. As an educational tool, however, this is a timely reminder for viewers to not only recognise the omnipresence of oil-based products but to also advocate for meaningful systemic changes.

• The Oil Machine is released on 4 November in cinemas.


Phuong Le

The GuardianTramp

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