World Socialist Website - December 9, 2019
*"*Dark Waters is a harrowing, gripping film. Straightforward and zealous, its rich cinematography captures DuPont’s environmental destruction of West Virginia, the ruination of the state’s farms and landscape in strikingly graphic manner. The psychological trauma and turmoil of the sick and dying and of those who dare challenge the corporate behemoth are wrenching. "
Directed by Todd Haynes; screenplay by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, based on the 2016 article “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare” by Nathaniel Rich, published in the New York Times Magazine
Todd Haynes’ new movie Dark Waters is a dramatic recounting of the nearly 20-year legal battle against the massive scale of toxic chemical contamination in Parkersburg, West Virginia by the DuPont chemical company.
Scripted by Mario Correa and Matthew Michael Carnahan, the movie is based on the January 2016 article, “The Lawyer Who Became DuPont’s Worst Nightmare,” by Nathaniel Rich, published in the New York Times Magazine. Rich is the son of former longtime Times drama critic and columnist, Frank Rich.
This is Haynes’ eighth feature film. His body of work includes Safe (1995), Far from Heaven (2002), Carol (2015) and Wonderstruck (2017). He also directed the five-part HBO miniseries, Mildred Pierce (based on the 1941 James M. Cain novel), in 2011, one of his most intriguing efforts. Haynes has demonstrated that he is one of today’s more talented and conscious filmmakers. With Dark Waters, he is stepping into somewhat new territory by dramatizing a horrific social crime—an episode that outraged him, as he has explained to interviewers.
The film’s prologue, set in 1975, shows a group of teens venturing into a fenced-off, murky pond adjacent to a DuPont facility. Their nighttime swim is interrupted by men in a boat marked “containment,” spraying the greasy surface of the highly polluted waters.
Mark Ruffalo plays Rob Bilott, an attorney at a very prominent Cincinnati-based law firm, Taft Stettinius & Hollister. In 1998, Bilott is approached by a farmer, Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) from Parkersburg, West Virginia, an area that Rob has visited as a child. Wilbur is convinced that DuPont, which operates a nearby site more than 35 times the size of the Pentagon, is polluting the town and killing his cows. Parkersburg is basically owned by DuPont, whose motto is “Better Living Through Chemistry.” Wilbur has no hope of obtaining government or legal assistance in the city.
Although Rob defends chemical companies for a living, he nevertheless agrees to look into Wilbur’s claims. The farmer has taken videotapes documenting the demise of his cows. He has also dissected the animals, exposing unusual discolorations and textures of the organs. Some of the cows had malformed hoofs and giant lesions protruding from their hides, among other deformities. DuPont, with the connivance of the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has charged Wilbur with inadequate husbandry, i.e., “poor nutrition, inadequate veterinary care and lack of fly control.”
In 1999, Rob files a federal lawsuit against DuPont and soon discovers that in 1951, DuPont started purchasing perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), or C8, from 3M for use in the manufacturing of Teflon, the coating for “happy pans.” (The “laboratory-formed chemical,” known as C8 “because it contains eight carbon molecules,” was used “to smooth out the lumpiness of freshly manufactured Teflon.”—EcoWatch)
The chemical company rakes in $1 billion in annual profits just from its Teflon products. Over the ensuing decades, DuPont pumped hundreds of thousands of pounds of PFOA powder through the outfall pipes of its Parkersburg facility into the Ohio River.
In one scene, Rob, to the initial shock of his wife Sarah (Anne Hathaway) begins frantically stripping their kitchen of its pots, pans and flooring. (According to Rich, the fluoropolymers industry is “responsible for the high-performance plastics used in many modern devices, including kitchen products, computer cables, implantable medical devices and bearings and seals used in cars and airplanes. PFOA was only one of more than 60,000 synthetic chemicals that companies produced and released into the world without regulatory oversight.”) ...
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