The bee documentary “More Than Honey” is filled with gorgeous cinematography and fascinating details about bees’ complex behavior and anatomy. Did you know that bees can taste with gustatory hairs on their legs? Or that they “see” smells in three dimensions, with a stereophonic olfactory system? Living in communities of tens of thousands, they’re never told what to do, yet each bee — worker, drone or queen — knows exactly what job to perform.
It’s an informative, if slightly unstructured, narrative, yet it plays more like a horror story. And it’s not because of the frequent close-up shots, often in slo-mo, that show the film’s hairy, bug-eyed subjects writhing in heaps one minute and swarming the camera the next. They actually start to look kind of beautiful after a while, even when they’re copulating in midair or sticking their long tongues out of alienlike mandibles to feed.
What’s really frightening about “Honey” isn’t what a hive of angry bees might do to us, but what we’ve done to them.
Director Markus Imhoof, who comes from a long line of Swiss beekeepers, looks at the mysterious phenomenon known as colony collapse disorder (CCD), which is killing honeybees around the world, and concludes that it’s no mystery. If the scientific world is still undecided about whether bees are dying from the use of agricultural chemicals and antibiotics, destructive mites, careless interbreeding or stress — each of which has been posited as an explanation for CCD, and each of which Imhoof considers — the filmmaker is certain of one thing: It’s our fault.
Why is this a problem? Can’t we just switch to sweetening our tea with Stevia? As the title suggests, we need bees for their pollination, not for honey.
Bees play such a critical role as pollinators that entire crops — almonds, cherries, apricots and many other forms of produce — would disappear without them. In a dire prediction attributed (perhaps apocryphally) to Albert Einstein, the filmmaker notes that if bees vanished, man would have only four years left to live.
Whether Einstein said that, and whether it’s true, it’s still a sobering thought. Imhoof makes it visible by showing us the drastic lengths to which we now must routinely go in order to pollinate the crops we’ve come to rely on.
One migratory American beekeeper featured in the film runs what is essentially a giant rent-a-bee business. All year long, he trucks bee colonies around the country, from field to field, wherever they’re needed. “It’s not natural for the bees to be on a truck,” a driver notes, with great understatement. In China, farm workers have actually been reduced to collecting pollen by hand and then daubing it manually, with Q-Tip-like applicators, on the plants.
If it seems insane, it is.
Colony collapse disorder may be caused by a combination of factors. Fungicide might inadvertently kill some bees, for example, which necessitates trucking them from, say, California to North Dakota, which creates unhealthy stress levels, and so on. Imhoof evokes the Kafkaesque nature of the vicious circle we may have created with another nightmare quote, from Lewis Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”:
“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.”
Unrated. At Landmark’s E Street Cinema. Contains brief images of bee sex and a naughty German word. In English and German with subtitles. 96 minutes.