“Darkness kills human potential. Energy nourishes it.” -- author Robert Bryce
Take a minute to absorb your environment right now. The amount of electricity consumed by the average first-world citizen tends to go unnoticed, an expected luxury many take for granted. We depend on electricity for entertainment, food storage, temperature control, communication, education, and staying up-to-date with the news. However, an estimated 1.1 billion people (14% of the global population) does not have access to electricity, according to the Energy Access Outlook 2017. Director Tyson Culver’s documentary Juice: How Electricity Explains the World shines a light on an invisible necessity and commodity by traveling the globe to emphasize the importance of electricity’s impact on our daily lives and the world as a whole.
The documentary opens up with a voice-over narration by Austin-based author Robert Bryce who states that all the things you care about are dependent on whether or not you can turn your lights on in the morning. This simple act is ultimately indicative of one’s life expectancy, wealth, and health. As Bryce gets ready for the day by shaving, making coffee, and breakfast, all of the appliances he uses highlight a dependence on electricity. Yet, people have grown immune to its presence and subsequent reliance until it is stripped away. The initial set-up of the documentary is meant to open the audience’s eyes to all of the different ways in which electricity is used and how it can be ignored as a convenience or luxury. The first jarring fact, which serves as a baseline of the documentary, is that there are over 3.3 billion people who live in countries where per capita electric use is less than what Bryce’s refrigerator uses in his kitchen (1,000 kWh per year). This comparison introduces the stark disparity of electricity access the documentary reveals across the globe.
A brief recap of electricity use throughout history provides additional insight into how humans have evolved through technological innovation over time. This transition ranges from fire use, to the 1890s when Frank Sprague revolutionized electric elevators changing metropolitan architecture forever, to basic household appliances used to expedite domestic chores. Traveling to Puerto Rico, India, Denver, Lebanon, New York, and Iceland, the documentary strategically exposes the electric grid’s interaction to its subsequent environment. One of the most impactful stories consist of the dismal socio-economic conditions in India where one third of the local population lives in poverty, and a number of residents nearly the size of the United States do not have access to electricity at all. Women who are anchored to domestic work for upwards of five hours per day cooking on a biomass stove are subjected to the massive inhalation of pollutants causing an annual death toll of more than one million at the cost of indoor air pollution. Due to lack of electricity, cooking with biomass has been estimated to be the equivalent of burning four hundred cigarettes an hour in one’s kitchen. This is just one of the many striking examples the documentary showcases of how lack of electricity shapes poverty, health, and opportunity across cultures.
Over thirty international interviews are conducted throughout Juice ranging from residents of impoverished countries to CEOs and professors in mechanical engineering and economics. Bryce maintains a sobering tone throughout the documentary discussing history, current economic disparities, and potential improvements for the future while touching base on solar, nuclear, coal, gas, geothermal, and hydro energy. However, there is not a lot of attention given to opposing viewpoints in terms of electricity allocation or renewable resources. The subject matter may also be fairly dense and esoteric to some, but it is delivered with ease and precision through smooth editing, narration, and interviews with succinct information from the past, present, and potential ideas for the future. Filled with beautiful aerial shots and poignant scenes on par with images out of National Geographic magazine, Culver’s documentary debut is enlightening and powerful. Some of the world’s most pressing challenges such as women’s rights, poverty, and climate change can all be traced back to electricity. Possessing a clear vision for change, Juice successfully demonstrates how light is necessary to conquer the darkness in all forms across the world.