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‘To the End’ Review: Seeing Red While Left on Read

The last image that flashes before the title card on the documentary “To the End” is video captured from inside a car as it drives through a forest engulfed in flames. The footage shows the inferno of California’s wildfire season, and more than any image that follows, this opening presents a stark view of the apocalyptic effects of global climate change.

The film quickly moves from the ravages of the earth to conference halls and the chambers of Congress‌. Using interviews and vérité footage, the documentary follows activists and political strategists like Varshini Prakash from the Sunrise Movement and Alexandra Rojas from Justice Democrats, as well as the policy writer, Rhiana Gunn-Wright. These young people have made finding political solutions for climate change their life’s work. The first major milestone that they face is the midterm elections in 2018, which mark the election of the progressive candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is interviewed extensively throughout the documentary. The director Rachel Lears then follows her subjects through the 2020 presidential election, and up to the passing of the climate-focused Inflation Reduction Act in 2022.

Through this time period, the activists and politicians depicted experience countless versions of no before they hear a yes on meaningful intervention into the climate crisis. They are often forced to compromise based on lack of support from voters, and lack of interest from politicians. Lears clearly feels earnest sympathy for her subjects and passion for their cause, but the film often replicates for viewers the same atmosphere of hopelessness that makes climate activism a hard sell for voters. Representative Ocasio-Cortez offers the best onscreen antidote to despair — she’s funny, a canny political strategy.

To the End
Rated R for language. Running time: 1 hour 35 minutes. In theaters.

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