Muhammad Kamruzzamann

Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters: a step towards what we don’t/know

Movie Review | Published: 00:00, Apr 26,2020 | Updated: 21:47, Apr 25,2020


Dark Waters (2019) is the story of a corporate defence lawyer who is fighting a case to prove that DuPont, a chemical manufacturing corporation, is indeed responsible for cancers and other diseases among a lot of people in West Virginia. While reviewing the movie Muhammad Kamruzzamann urges that this is high time that people Bangladesh questions governing bodies and the companies that are responsible for taking our country at the top of every pollution rating

‘BATS are not to blame for coronavirus. Humans are,’ is a title of an article published on CNN on March 20. It says, according to zoologists and disease experts, changes in human behaviour have allowed ‘diseases that were once locked away in nature to cross into people fast’.

Thomas Gillespie, an associate professor at Emory University’s department of environmental sciences says that he is not at all astonished by the outbreak of coronavirus because ‘the majority of pathogens are still to be discovered. We are at the very tip of the iceberg.’

Similarly, Todd Haynes’ Dark Waters (2019) is an attempt to make the whole world aware that there are a lot of companies like DuPont, a chemical manufacturing corporation, are yet to be discovered those had as well as have been poisoning the atmosphere that we live in.

My attempt here would be to narrate the fight of Robert Bilott, a corporate defence lawyer, enacted by Mark Ruffalo, against DuPont, and his struggle that leads towards a shocking finding that PFOA, perfluorooctanoic acid, is used by DuPont to manufacture Teflon –– a material used to coat cooking utensils and in industrial applications where sticking is to be avoided –– that is found to be responsible for causing multiple cancers and other diseases like birth defects.

At the same time, I would also like to raise a question that, in Bangladesh, do we have companies like DuPont poisoning the nation continuously?

Interestingly, the film is based on the article, ‘The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare’ published in The New York Times magazine. That means media can play vital roles as well. Otherwise the post-release stock price of DuPont wouldn’t drop from 72.18 to 65.03 points, though, comparatively, Dark Waters hasn’t been a hot topic worldwide. If Mark Ruffalo hadn’t been one of my favourites, I might even end up knowing nothing about the film.  

So, there is a scope to question the role of media because, from newspaper to new media, these, to some extent, decide the boundary for the audience. Because there are always some films being popularised overnight and some are left to be rotten knowing that some might have significant potential to make us re/think.

‘Take Me Home, Country Roads’ John Denver’s one of the most loved songs, is used as the background music when Robert decides to have a look of the condition of Parkersburg, a city in northwestern West Virginia, and what is depicted in the film of West Virginia is completely opposite of the imagery sketched in Denver’s 1971 classic because the city is no more a city of life but full of ‘unexplained death’.

Farmer Wilbur Tennant wants Robert to investigate the case and claims that DuPont is responsible for the tragic condition of his farm. Robert files a case and what he discovers is that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) might not be regulating the chemicals. Robert while examining the papers of DuPont, finds out ‘numerous references to PFOA’, perfluorooctanoic acid.

He also finds that DuPont, on their own, has been testing the effect of PEOA, and they, deliberately, have not made the finding of their tests public that PFOA suggests ‘causes cancer and birth defects’. The investigation also brings out the fact that the company has ‘dumped hundreds of gallons of toxic sludge upriver from Tennant's farm’.

Robert sends the evidence to EPA as well as to Department of Justice and as a result of that the EPA fines DuPont USD 16.5 million. But Robert, out of dissatisfaction, wants medical support for all the residents. Meanwhile, the public start to protest knowing about the PFOA, and the story turns national news. As a result of that DuPont settles for USD 70 million as a cost of medical monitoring.

An independent scientific review committee collects samples of nearly 70,000 people for examining the existence of the effect of PFOA. It took more than seven years to know the result of the study that ‘PFOA causes multiple cancers and other diseases’. And the case ends with a settlement of USD 671 million against DuPont. However, the description is plain, but Robert has suffered financially, physically and psychologically during his fight against DuPont. 

According to IQAir, Dhaka is one of the top five cities in the world with the highest levels of air pollution. The question is who is responsible? Companies like DuPont or the inhabitants? Aren’t we all ir/responsible? If companies like DuPont are responsible then we are too because we have allowed them to be like DuPont. And the system is always with them because they have all the money and power.

It is time to question ourselves whether we want to live a healthy life or not: if the response is ‘no’ then let Dhaka be on top of the list of IQAir; contrastingly, if the response is ‘yes’ then the time has come to be responsible, to try for a better living condition, to question the responsible governing bodies for what we deserve, and to make those pay who are making our lives poisonous.

‘Bats are not to blame for coronavirus. Humans are,’ this title says everything that our activities make us suffer. So, the only choice left is: either we become responsible otherwise more like coronavirus is waiting.

Muhammad Kamruzzamann is a student of Jahangirnagar University.

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