The images of Behemoth are immense. The opening shot, of a barren mountainous landscape, is breathtaking in its scale. This vision is punctuated by the boom of an explosion, as a plume of smoke spills out of the ruptured mountains. As Behemoth progresses, Liang Zhao follows that explosion, probing the corrupted core of China’s mining industry and the scars it leaves. Immensity gives way to wounded specificity, in an elegy aching with pain.
Behemoth has the pointed politicism of Koyaanisqatsi, but a subtlety and lyricism that film lacked. Zhao’s approach does slip into bluntness from time to time. But its most confronting images – a green meadow consumed by mining rubble, and later, a graveyard similarly surrounded by the wreckage of industry – are contextualised with a delicacy that retains the film’s meditative atmosphere.
The image of the graveyard is moving not solely because of its power as an image, but because of the way Behemoth has brought us in to the traumas of the plethora of miners whose health – and lives – have been sacrificed to the rapacity of their employers. These miners’ faces reveal the human scale of mining’s toll on the land and its inhabitants: devastation writ large and small.