Todd Haynes’ latest film, Dark Waters, depicts the uncovering of a secret that connects one of the world's largest corporations to unexplained deaths in West Virginia. It is a fictional take on a true story, based on the New York Times Magazine's article published by Nathaniel Rich.
Rob Bilott (Mark Ruffalo), is a corporate defense lawyer in Cincinnati who defends chemical companies. When approached by an enraged farmer––Wilbur Tennant (Bill Camp) from West Virginia, whose animals are inexplicably dying––Bilott is morally forced to look into the case. As the film develops, the defense lawyer––along with the viewer––discovers the atrocities done by the American chemical company, DuPont.
DuPont, founded in 1802 as a gunpowder mill, is one of the world’s largest producers of chemicals and science-based products. The company is responsible for developing innovative materials such as Teflon, Mylar, Dacron, Lycra, and Orlon.
Eventually, Bilott comes across the term PFOA, a manufactured chemical that is used in stain-resistant carpets and fabrics, nonstick cookware, and other everyday products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. The investigation––which eventually becomes into giant class-action lawsuits––proves that PFOA is linked to health conditions like cancer, chronic kidney disease, thyroid disorders, liver disease, infertility, and low birth weight. Bilott then realizes that DuPont is running a completely unregulated chemical that it is not just affecting the farmer's property, but the whole community and ends up in the water all over the world, in everybody's blood.
In an interview on NPR, Mark Ruffalo––who is also the producer––and Robert Bilott shared that the movie was filmed on the actual offices where a lot of the story took place and with the families that were involved. The goal was to center as much as possible on the actual community. Bilott was highly involved in the production of the film and therefore able to share with Ruffalo details that made the scenes much more compelling. Currently, DuPont denies wrongdoing and the company has claimed that the movie is not accurate and it's inspired by the life of Robert Bilott. When asked about this on NPR, Bilott responded saying, "this is something I've been dealing with for a couple of decades now. The company has its version of the facts. I think folks can see the film. I've recently done a book so people will have those resources and they can draw their own conclusions about who's got the actual version of reality here."
Dark Waters illustrates how a legal case is built piece by piece, year by year, and the many unfair obstructions that come with it. It exhibits what DuPont––a still running company––decided to ignore in spite of being aware of the severe ramifications of their chemical products, for lucrative reasons. Unfortunately, because Parkersburg, West Virginia is a company town, there's a lot of mixed feelings regarding the disclosure of the chemical company. Hopefully, the film will allow viewers to experience and fully understand the gravity of the misuse of science and abuse of power.
"The story's not done. It's still out there. It's in our blood. It's in the blood of nearly every living creature on the planet," said Mark Ruffalo to NPR, "It accumulates in us over time. We can't get it out of our systems. And in the end, part of what the debate, I think, about this film should be––and I think it's a debate that we're having nationally––is, do these systems that are made to protect us- are they actually in service of us, or are they in service of a corporate political system?"