Director: Eloise Poulton
Writer: Gus Mitchell
Published in 1962, scientist Rachel Carson’s book Silent Spring focused on the indiscriminate use of chemicals and their impact on the environment. Carson’s message was startling and uncompromising: the widespread use of chemicals would end in ecological collapse.
Forming part of an ongoing digital project on Carson by production team the wonderful, Nevergreen is a short film, exploring the life and work of the scientist. Debuting at the Living Record Festival, Nevergreen is a powerfully persuasive piece of film-making. Taking Carson’s relationship with Nature as the starting point, the film edges into art-house biography, telling the story of her discoveries through layers of performance.
As Rachel Carson, Katurah Morrish introduces herself via webcam. She slips into character effortlessly, as the American accent of Carson retells her childhood, and her early fascination with the natural world. Also filmed on location in Hampstead Heath, Carson tells us how she came to write her “poison book”. Nevergreen’s script (by Gus Mitchell) uses excerpts of her scientific writing and bold swathes of poetic, dream-like language. Director Eloise Poulton captures Morrish engaging with the landscape; lying on a bed of winter leaves, brushing delicate ferns against her face. The intensity that builds in Nevergreen echoes the urgency of Carson’s message. By the time of Silent Spring’s release, she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer.
Morrish artfully moves between herself and Carson; she spits out the names of pesticides that have altered the natural balance of things. While Carson’s book sold well, her message was not heeded by the giants of the chemical industry, and attempts to discredit Carson’s work took aim at her from every angle. Poulton and Mitchell clearly identify the feminist strand running through Carson’s narrative, as her discreditors leaned on Carson’s gender to cast doubt on the viability of her findings. Morrish loads her anger towards them and those within in the scientific community who suggested that Carson was not a “modern scientist”; that her argument for change made her, at best, naive.
Nevergreen excels at portraying Carson’s love of Nature. In beautiful animations from Josh McClure, fish and birds travel across the screen; scientific illustrations come to life. The film’s visual language buzzes with energy: artwork from Ana Zoob adopts the colour palette of Nature to create abstract paintings. A sense of harmony begins to sour, as the colours used by Zoob and McClure start to clash and fight each other, accentuating the growing horror of Carson’s vision.
Poulton’s film manages to capture the essence of Carson far more effectively than any Hollywood biopic. By joining together film footage and visual art, Nevergreen illustrates the intellectually-radical personality of Carson. In Katurah Morrish’s depiction of the scientist, we have a woman capable of the imagination needed to take on Nature’s biggest questions. Moving between ‘Katurah’ and ‘Rachel’, Morrish becomes increasingly immersed in Carson’s life. The frustration Morrish conveys at the reception Silent Spring received, is palpable.
Nevergreen tells Carson’s story without having to refer to narrative cliché – this is a Carson existing both in and outside of her own biography. Poulton’s approach – innovative, unexpected – brings Carson and her work to life in a way that couldn’t be done in a traditional format. For a woman with such a unique perspective on the world, it feels entirely appropriate.
Available here until 22 February 2021
The Living Record Festival runs here from 17 January to 22 February 2021