Skip to content

Root & Vine at the Movies: A Plastic Ocean

Photo courtesy of Pamela Heckel

It’s summer in North America, and after many of us skipped our traditional escapes to the beach last year, everyone seems to be on their way to the coast to catch a little sunshine and salt air. My family plans to lap up every ounce of ocean we can get on our own beach trip in a few weeks, so our movie choice for this week, A Plastic Ocean, seemed like just the right pick.

A Plastic Ocean: What to Expect

The Plastic Ocean (2016) © Netflix. Image Courtesy of IMDb.

You can catch A Plastic Ocean on Netflix, but be warned: this one has a rating of TV-14 and probably isn’t the best choice for your youngins. There are some tough realities about people’s use of plastics and what they’re doing to sea life that can be quite upsetting. If you want another water feature to prepare your family for the ocean, we recommend the 2021 Oscar-winning documentary, My Octopus Teacher, which we reviewed earlier this year.

That said, the documentary A Plastic Ocean, released in 2016, is well worth your time. The film captures the impact plastics and microplastics are having on our oceans, marine animals, birds, beaches, and people around the globe in eye-opening and sometimes graphic ways. 

When you finish viewing the film, every sheet of plastic wrap, every emptied plastic bag, and every disposable produce wrapper will conjure feelings of concern.

So, yes, totally watch this film!

Finding the Love: Faithifying Your Viewing

I kid, but I’m also quite serious. If you’ve spent any time reading the Old Testament of the Bible, you know that prophets are no one’s favorite town visitor. When a prophet comes to town, he’s usually there to deliver bad news. 

We all love the prophets when they say stuff like, “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’” (Jeremiah 29:11). That’s a feel-good (albeit taken out of context) verse. But I feel a little uncomfortable if I keep reading on in the same chapter: 

“You may say, ‘The Lord has raised up prophets for us in Babylon,’ but this is what the Lord says about the king who sits on David’s throne and all the people who remain in this city, your fellow citizens who did not go with you into exile—yes, this is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘I will send the sword, famine and plague against them and I will make them like figs that are so bad they cannot be eaten. I will pursue them with the sword, famine and plague and will make them abhorrent to all the kingdoms of the earth, a curse and an object of horror, of scorn and reproach, among all the nations where I drive them. For they have not listened to my words,’ declares the Lord, ‘words that I sent to them again and again by my servants the prophets. And you exiles have not listened either,’ declares the Lord” (Jeremiah 29:15-19 NIV).

Prophets bring judgment, warnings, and consequences to those who need to correct their ways. No one anywhere in all of history has liked to be reprimanded. It’s painful. It’s embarrassing. But hopefully, it is humbling enough to make us turn from whatever action we’ve been doing.

So goes it with A Plastic Ocean. It is not a fun documentary to watch. You won’t feel good afterward. But that’s the point. It’s tempting to skip a recommendation for a movie that doesn’t make you feel good. I want you to feel good. But ignorance is not bliss. The writer of Proverbs tells us, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7 NIV). 

You are no fool, right?

There was a prophet who didn’t want to deliver God’s message to his people, and you know what happened to him? He got swallowed by a fish and thrown up three days later. And then, when he did finally go to Nineveh, the people actually listened to him! They turned from the evil deeds they were doing and turned toward God. So God didn’t punish them. 

How did Jonah feel about that?

“But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry. He prayed to the Lord, ‘Isn’t this what I said, Lord, when I was still at home? That is what I tried to forestall by fleeing to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity. Now, Lord, take away my life, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3 NIV).

Jonah wanted the people of Nineveh to be punished for their wickedness. He was angry that God relented and that things were going to be better for the citizens of Nineveh. I knew this would happen! Jonah says. 

That’s what I want to be able to say. That’s what I bet the people who produced A Plastic Ocean want to say. I knew this would happen! I knew that if we told you what all this plastic was doing to our lives and the lives on this planet, you would turn, you would make changes to your lives, and things would get better. See?!

That is the power of the prophets. Documentaries like this pull back the veil and reveal uncomfortable truths with the hope that our choices and actions will change, now that we know. If we aren’t concerned about a behavior that is ultimately harmful to Creation, how then will we ever change?

Like the fish in the Book of Jonah, lots of animals swallow lots of things they shouldn’t swallow in A Plastic Ocean, but not many of them can spit out what shouldn’t be there in the first place. Instead, they die. That is the terrible reality, the terrible reality out of which you can’t really cherry pick a pretty verse.

However, there is hope!

Hope is always on the other side of suffering if we’re able to persevere and build character through it (Romans 5:3-5). There is hope to turn the tide, literally, on our plastic consumption, one decision at a time, one incredible innovation at a time, so that we can keep doing our part to sustain and restore the garden to its former glory.

Watch A Plastic Ocean. Afterward, I challenge you to take one more small step toward using less plastic—substitute aluminum foil (which can be recycled after it’s rinsed clean) for plastic wrap. Use reusable shopping bags or paper bags for your groceries. Stop buying plastic water bottles and opt for a refillable glass or metal bottle instead. Small steps taken by seven billion people on earth can make a big difference in our plastic consumption.

Now, go forth, and watch the waves crash on a (hopefully plastic-free) beach!

Share on Social

Back To Top