Woman At War follows a single woman in her 40s, Halla, as she does what she sees as her part to combat the governmental and corporate forces threatening the health of Iceland’s highlands. Her tools are a bow and arrow, a backpack full of explosives, a choir, an aggressive yoga practice, and an adoption application. She’s not sure which is the best course of action, but she bets something in that mix will get the job done.
Iceland’s submission to last year’s Academy Awards (not nominated), Woman at War is kind of like if Wes Anderson had directed First Reformed. It’s a comedy at heart, but one undergirded by earned sentiment and fueled by an intelligent conscience. Halla is convinced something must be done about the factors contributing to climate change in her backyard, and she’s trying out different methods of making an impact. Some of them are just more explosive than others. Halla is played by Halldóra Geirharðsdóttir, whom you may remember from the excellent Metalhead, if you were wise enough to take our recommendation and see that film. She also plays her own sister in the film, so she gets to argue with herself explicitly, but she ably conveys the conflict inside Halla throughout, an internal conflict made visible and audible by the film’s clever use of diegetic music. You feel for and through her.
The things she is feeling-out are pertinent to us as well. We may not be tempted to go the way of Edward Abbey’s “Monkey Wrench Gang” and resort to acts of environmental terrorism, but looking the evidence for human-caused climate change squarely in the face and asking ourselves what we, you and me, can do about it is trying. The problem seems so large, and we are so small. What difference does it make beyond the symbolic if I bike commute instead of buying an extra car? My impact is too marginal to measure. Maybe raising up the next generation to be wiser than mine is the way to go. What if it’s too late, and the best we can do is to bear the ill effects of industrialization together?
Woman at War is perhaps a bit too non-specific about exactly what Halla is combating. It has something to do with an aluminum smelter and something to do with international interests in Iceland’s resources. The point of the film isn’t really the particulars of the threats facing Iceland’s highlands though. It’s concerned with a woman’s response to the existential stress created by the gnat cloud of pessimistic predictions coming at her from her newspapers and TV newscasts. This is a cloud we all live under, and it’s tempting to either shut it off or collapse under the insurmountability of it all.
The solution is a mix of all that is offered to Halla: daily choices like riding her bike instead of driving; being engaged in her community; practicing an embodied spirituality that’s aware of our unavoidable communion with the earth; making the big choices when they are hers to make; bearing the next generation until they are mature enough to bear themselves. Halla has the opportunity to find her center in Hindu practices, in choosing to respond to the good in people and situations rather than focusing on the bad. We Christians call that grace and hope, and we have a biblically-grounded heritage of stewarding the earth as an act of worship of God as well.
As I type this, I’m watching a homeless man wearing blue surgical gloves pick up garbage on the sidewalk and in the gutter outside this coffee shop window. This is a man of extremely limited means. I see those means stacked against the window in front of me. Maybe he’s gathering this litter and throwing it away as a way of earning the coffee and food given to him by the barista. Maybe he’s caring for his city. Maybe he knows that caring for the city is something this coffee shop values, and by cleaning the sidewalk, he’s participating in that greater work. Maybe this is a picture of what we all should do – do the good, caring work that’s in front of you to do. Be responsible for your part, whether it’s running a business that supports city conservation efforts, commuting in an environmentally-friendly way, or picking up the bit of litter on the path as you walk. If we all did what we can do, both big and small things, we’d make a difference. That’s what stewardship is.