The End of the Line

‘Line’ gets tangled in overload of data

The End of the Line One segment of the film presents a fisherman in Senegal competing with industrial fisheries. (Jihad Hashim)
By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / July 24, 2009

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Dining conspicuously is easy. Dining conscientiously is not. If you’re going to eat, say, bluefin tuna at Nobu, you should know that bluefin tuna is endangered. And if you need a movie to club you upside the head with this news, hold steady for “The End of the Line,’’ a new documentary that traces overfishing in the world’s oceans.

Actually, “trace’’ is far too discreet a word for a movie whose images are slathered with music fit for a horror-thriller. It’s part Philip Glass, part Danny Elfman, and, at the sight of a mere dorsal fin, part John Williams. Music coats shots of everything from hundreds of fish flopping in nets to graphs denoting the steep decline in certain fish species. After 10 minutes, I got it: Things are bad.

But Rupert Murray’s film doesn’t argue that this is the case. It asserts as much. And it’s not that we should be skeptical of what we’re being told, it’s that the way Murray tells us makes one wonder why he doesn’t show more. This is a non-IMAX movie whose IMAX production values are meant to substitute for a substantive argument. The images of fish sloshing around boats and flying down chutes (there are so many of those), and of men looking at screens and handling fish impart no particular story and advance no particular argument.

“The End of the Line’’ has been adapted from Charles Clover’s nonfiction book based on the work he did, in part, as a reporter for London’s Daily Telegraph. (Clover appears throughout the film, working the phones, standing outside Nobu, describing the lengths companies will go to monopolize the fishing industry.) The movie is most effective when it applies statistics to actual cases and people. We meet a Senegalese fisherman having a hard time competing with the resources and evil relentlessness of certain industrial fisheries. You could make an entire film about that.

This movie wants to cover every base without thinking very deeply about them. So while a lot of ground is covered in 80 brisk minutes, the information presented is only abstractly useful. Lots of scientists discuss specific types of harm. For example, a decrease in part of one ecosystem creates an overabundance in other parts. Fewer cod means more lobsters (yes, cod eat lobsters; yes, it sounds crazy). Rays now plague Chesapeake Bay because the sharks that normally eat them are gone. One scientist jokes that at current depletion rates we’ll have such a wacky upending of marine life that jellyfish burgers could be in our futures.

The movie goes to town on this sort of information, throwing enough data at us in the hope that some of it sticks - or leaves a bruise. For 70 minutes or so, Murray gathers storm clouds, then attempts to part them in 10.

Like many of these works of docu-activism (“Food Inc.,’’ which is still in theaters, being a much better articulated, more persuasively argued example), “The End of the Line’’ chases an onslaught alarmism with an ounce of advice. We’re delivered motivational optimism. “We can act now,’’ one of the scientists says, “It’s not rocket science. You just do it.’’

Presented another way, this would be convincing. Here, it still feels like the end of the world. This movie makes you feel like a comet will hit earth before widespread marine reserves are ever achieved.

Wesley Morris can be reached at

THE END OF THE LINE Directed by: Rupert Murray

Narrated by: Ted Danson

At: Kendall Square

Running time: 80 minutes


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