Dr. Alice Brough
Even before its debut, The End of Medicine has rallied praise as a future Oscar contender. It’s an impressive feat for director Alex Lockwood, who makes his feature debut with the film. Nevertheless, given the documentary’s urgent nature (and its guidance from executive producers Joaquin Phoenix and Rooney Mara), the early close eye on its place in the awards conversation is more than warranted.
When The End of Medicine debuts on May 10, audiences will have the opportunity to dive into an investigation that exposes the link between emerging health threats (think: antibiotic resistance and pandemics) and the role of exploitation. Through the expertise and personal testaments of government advisors, medical experts, activists, leading scientists and industry whistleblowers, Lockwood captures a worrisome, though captivating story.
Ahead of The End of Medicine’s premiere, LA Confidential spoke with Lockwood and lead whistleblower Dr. Alice Brough.
Let’s start with the title. I know it’s a phrase said in the documentary, but why The End of Medicine? It’s a pretty scary concept even before you watch it.
Alex Lockwood: The title refers to the idea that if we keep using antibiotics in the way that we are, then they will continue to lose their potency over time. And the main and leading health organizations in the world all agree that this is already happening as a result of how we're using antibiotics. That means people using antibiotics when they shouldn't be, but also— and this is what we look at in the film— 70% of the world's antibiotics are used on farm animals just so that those animals stay alive long enough so that we can then obviously put them into the food market. And this is leading to potentially disastrous consequences for the human race. So “the end of medicine” as we know it refers to that basically.
With The End of Medicine, how did you evolve the conversation around factory farming?
AL: Basically, we felt that this information wasn't common knowledge in the way that it should be because it's something that affects us all and will continue to affect us all. When you look at something like climate change and people are quite rightly speaking about that, it's all over the news and the media are focusing on it now finally in more of the way that they should be. But this is something that's creeping up in the background, and we're sleepwalking into this situation and the mainstream media just isn't covering it. The governments aren't doing enough to tackle these issues, even though they accept a science that suggests these issues are occurring. So basically, this film has come out of an anxiety to just get this information out there and say, “We feel that people have a right to know where their food comes from and what impacts their choices as consumers have.”
Alice, how did you join The End of Medicine?
Alice Brough: My background is that I worked in the pig industry for about four years here in Britain. And so I was seeing firsthand a lot of the disease issues and very worrying things I was seeing and doing, like the volume of antibiotics that I was having to put into these animals to just keep them alive to slaughter. I was seeing that firsthand, but nobody was talking about it, like the industry almost actually evades that conversation. I've watched all these documentaries like Cowspiracy and What the Health, and I feel like they're so impactful at getting a message out there to the wider population, so I jumped at the chance because I was already thinking deeply about these issues.
Alex, was the plan always to have Alice’s story thread the film together?
AL: We started the film before having that clear structure and made quite a vast portion of the film. There was a full draft in place and we were just watching it and thinking that something's not right about it. There's all these different scientists and experts but nothing sort of tying everything together. And the more we watched the interview with Alice, the more it became really obvious that Alice needed to play more of a pivotal role in the film.
This is the only person who speaks from a place of coming from an industry that she's now looking to critique and that counts for a lot.
How did Rooney Mara and Joaquin Phoenix become part of the project?
AL: When the pandemic began to happen, they started the process of actually going into pre-production on a very similar film, and then they heard about our film and they said, “You know, let's just kind of join together on this.”
Obviously that was just ridiculously exciting because that is something that I didn't think would ever happen. They were just really super supportive the whole time and they gave their opinions and their feedback. They've watched every draft of the film. Whilst all the while saying, “We don't want to stamp out authority on it. We want it to be your film still.”
Whenever we’ve shown it to Rooney and Joaquin, it's an opportunity to see the film from an audience perspective for someone who's not working on the film day in, day out and I think, particularly, they've pulled up points where they said, “Well, we, you know, we didn't really understand this bit.”
They've really helped us by being able to say, as an audience member, “Maybe you could tweak this and that so that is clear.”
How did you emotionally handle being submerged in this subject matter day in and day out?
AB: It definitely intensified the worry that I had because I think about these things all the time. But you do have to take a break and not think so much about the enormity of it. So having to kind of do all this research, get it all really concrete in my mind and keep going over it was quite tough. As well as the fact that I was giving a bit of my emotional story in the film as well. It really took a lot for me to watch bits back. I cry every time I watch it, to be honest. It did take a lot, but again, it's way more important than me being a bit sad.
AL: It's obviously a really heavy topic. And so every time it's felt too heavy, we've had to find a way to think, “OK, well, how do we take some of that away and make sure that it ends in a positive way?” And that people don't just walk away from watching the film feeling depressed, but actually they feel like, “Oh, actually, I have the power to do something about this.” So that's been our approach in making the film is to try and do something where people finish watching the film and they ultimately feel empowered.
In addition to ending on an optimistic note, The End of Medicine emphasizes the importance of people committing to plant-based eating. How important is personal responsibility to these issues?
AB:The governments really do need to look at the policies that they're putting in place at the moment. We're seeing fossil fuels still being mined and burned, which is absolutely against what we've been told about by science. We're being told to reduce our meat consumption and nobody's doing anything about it. So at the moment, subsidies from governments are still going into these damaging industries, whether it's animal agriculture, fossil fuels, etc. But agriculture is a little bit different in the way that we as consumers can affect it because we can actually vote with our wallets. If we reduce the demand for these products, whether it's food whether it's fur in fashion or cosmetics that use animal testing and any way that we exploit animals, we can just choose not to buy those products. We're in a position to do so, which most of us are.
But I think it's twofold, really. The government will have to follow what consumers do eventually because. Just follow the lobbying power, really. The big industries that can afford to lobby them and give them the most money, they're going to continue supporting, so if we stopped supporting them, it creates that chain reaction.
Is there anything else important audiences should know?
AL: We are aware that we don't live in a plant-based world… We didn't want to make a film that was finger pointing and saying, “You need to do this, you need to do that. I think you’re terrible people if you're behaving in this way.” We wanted to instead appreciate that we come from a society where eating meat, eating animal products is the norm. I'm just trying to give you that knowledge that this is what the implications of that diet are and make your own choices off the back of that. Everything that's within the film is based heavily on the data and the research and the science, and we've gone where the science has led us, rather than going out with this agenda in the first place. So I would just encourage anybody who watches the film and has questions to do their own research, think for themselves. I think that's what we wanted to do is to start this conversation that needs to be had.
This interview has been edited and condensed. The End of Medicine is available on Apple TV on May 10.
Photography by: Courtesy First Spark Media