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'Dark Waters': 'They Were All My Sons'

By Michael S. GoldbergeriBerkshires Film Critic
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"They were all my sons." — Joe, in Arthur Miller's "All My Sons"
 
Pogo's Walt Kelly capsulized man's inhumanity to man when he coined a cynical variation on U.S. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry's 1813 missive to Army General William Henry Harrison, informing, after the victory at Lake Erie, "We have met the enemy and they are ours." Kelly's version, written on the occasion of the infamous McCarthy hearings, and since employed in anti-pollution demonstrations, reads, "We have met the enemy and he is us."
 
So, what do we do? A closing statement in Todd Haynes' beyond disturbing "Dark Waters," about one lawyer's crusade against the DuPont Co. for its long history of polluting the environment, apprises that 99 percent of all human beings on this Earth have traces of toxic PFOA, a "forever chemical" used to make Teflon, among other things, in their bloodstreams. But only the most naïve of us is truly startled by either this information or the studious, documentary-like divulgences that build up to it in Haynes' important muckrake.
 
Fact is, we've been poisoning humankind's well since first we learned how to make a profit out of it while concomitantly rationalizing, if bothering at all, that we'll worry about it later. Well, it's later.
 
What's really nuts and incomprehensible is the magnitude of self-delusion it must take a chemical company executive to rationalize that his own grandchildren will somehow avoid the environmental horrors he's wreaking upon them. Granted, we haven't killed ourselves off yet.
 
But the fact is we've developed all sorts of diseases never seen prior to our rampant dabbling in toxins. Who knows what the life expectancy of our species may have accrued to at this point had we been less greedy.
 
Yet, the detractors to my obvious liberal bent, who smell the blood of their mortal adversary with much more interest than they whiff things that are bad for the commonweal, might ask, "But look here, Goldberger, are you willing to do without that great thingamajig those chemicals make?"
 
And there's the rub. But the difference, in defense of the folks on my side of the political spectrum, is that, hypocritical or not, I won't deny the inherent damage regularly created by the conundrum of a lifestyle in which the modern world has enveloped itself. I won't declare it all a hoax, whether it's a constitutional duty or a scientific fact like climate change that just so happens to be inconvenient to my profiteering or religious beliefs. Aristotle, Plato and Socrates worked too darn hard to establish the indispensability of pure truth to our civilization for us to assert — as we resort to the couch, nachos and six-packs in hand, to watch football players render each other concussions — that lying senators and manmade illnesses don't concern us. Besides, I hate football.
 
Yet all this said, intellectualization and a profound hope that our naysaying neighbors will one day hop aboard the protest train don't ameliorate how utterly hopeless you feel after "Dark Waters" spews its muddy disclosures. The words million and billion cascade like overwhelming artillery and bombs as they denote the size of the war chest the chemical companies have against the peashooter courtroom efforts of good citizens like Mark Ruffalo's Robert Bilott, the Ohio attorney who has made it his life's work to fight the poisoning dragons.
 
Exiting the theater, you bleatingly ask, "What can I do? What can I join?"
 
Well, adopting even just a smidgen of the reformist attitude evangelist Billy Sunday espoused in his diatribe against sin might hearten you a bit. Later paraphrased by Burt Lancaster's Elmer Gantry regarding his disdain for booze in the movie by that name based on the Sinclair Lewis novel, Mr. Sunday said, "Listen, I'm against sin. I'll kick it as long as I've got a foot, I'll fight it as long as I've got a fist, I'll butt it as long as I've got a head, and I'll bite it as long as I've got a tooth. And when I'm old, fistless, footless, and toothless, I'll gum it till I go home to glory and it goes home to perdition."
 
If that doesn't appeal to you, you could at least boycott a product or two. It's a start, and gosh knows you could use a little break from the crunchy carbs, beer and football.
 
There is a haunting scene late in the film, after a few victims have already received court settlements when, at a casual gas station stop, a facially deformed man matter-of-factly asks Mr. Bilott the baseball score. His wife calls him Buck. Holy misshapen cow! A quick reference flashback brings us to the baby picture of Buck Bailey, an unofficial poster child of the birth defects caused by the distorting waters. That's no actor. It's him. Chillingly putting a face on this sin against humanity, reminding of the decades-long crusade to which attorney Bilott has devoted his career, we can only hope that, through our tutelage, those who follow us continue to work toward a world that is without "Dark Waters."
 
"Dark Waters," rated PG-13, is a Focus Features release directed by Todd Haynes and stars Mark Ruffalo, Anne Hathaway and Tim Robbins. Running time: 126 minutes

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Berkshire Food Project Recognizes Hours Put in by Volunteers

By Tammy DanielsiBerkshires Staff

Three generations of volunteers with Linda Palumbo, left, Cindy Bolte, Alicia Rondeau and Cassandra Shoestack.
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. — Five days a week a troop volunteers helps the small staff of the Berkshire Food Project feed hundreds of people. 
 
On Monday night, the tables were turned. 
 
More than 30 volunteers and attending family members were served up a choice of beef wellington and potato, salmon and rice, or a vegetarian meal, along with appetizers, dessert and beverages.
 
"Just from 2018 to 2019, [we served] 10,000 more meals, right, a 28 percent increase in 2019. So the numbers on the stove, same amount of counterspace. The only thing that changed is the capacity of our volunteers. So thank you, guys," said Executive Director Kim McMann. 
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