"An Inconvenient Truth:" A Documentary Film Where the Ethos, Logos, and Pathos All Depend on One Man


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An Inconvenient Truth, 2006’s Oscar-winning documentary on global warming, is arguably one of the most popular films of its kind in the last decade. Among the highest grossing documentaries of all time, the movie centers on former Vice President Al Gore traveling around America and giving a slideshow on climate change, with arguments surrounding its causes, how it’s not a myth (as some politicians would claim it is), and what can be done to try to stop it before it’s too late. Subtitled A Global Warning, the documentary’s main and most obvious goal is to arouse its audience with enough alarming information in order to get them to take action as soon as the end credits roll. But while many documentaries of this sort would center themselves around talking heads in order to make their points, An Inconvenient Truth has no outside interviews, instead placing almost everything on the shoulders of Gore. “Just like the orator or public speaker who uses his entire body to give voice to a particular perspective,” Bill Nichols writes in his textbook Introduction to Documentary, “documentaries speak with all the means at their disposal.” (67) In the case of this film, however, the speaker is the documentary, mostly consisting of Gore giving an extended speech that he claims he’s given hundreds of time. In this sense, the movie bases the use of the so-called “Rhetorical Triangle” entirely on its central figure, using ethos, pathos and logos in order to make Gore into a figure that we as an audience can trust on the film’s subject matter.