From Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle to Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, American literature has a history of being in the vanguard when it comes to activism about controversial issues. The books of Edward Abbey carry on that tradition, with memoirs like Desert Solitaire and the classic comic novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, taking on the degradation of the American Southwest.
Filmmaker ML Lincoln’s documentary Wrenched reveals how Edward Abbey’s anarchistic spirit and riotous novels influenced and helped guide the nascent environmental movement of the 1970s and ‘80s. Through interviews, archival footage and re-enactments, ML Lincoln captures the outrage of Abbey’s friends who were the original eco-warriors. In defense of wilderness, these early activists pioneered ”monkeywrenching” - a radical blueprint for “wrenching the system.” Exemplified by EarthFirst! in the early ‘80s, direct action and civil disobedience grew in popularity. With tree-spiking, forest occupation and high-profile publicity stunts such as the cracking at Glen Canyon Dam, this group became the eventual target of FBI infiltrators, leading to the arrest of various members.
Abbey’s message has lived on. Young activists are carrying the monkeywrenching torch, using his books as a source of inspiration. Wrenched captures a new generation as personified in Tim DeChristopher, who single-handedly stopped the sale of 100,000+ of acres of public trust lands in southeastern Utah. He was sentenced to federal prison for his actions. The fight continues to sustain the last bastion of the American frontier – the Wild West. And Wrenched, following in Abbey’s footsteps, asks the question, how far are we willing go in defense of wilderness?