Beyond the Review: Conor J Molloy on ‘The Mushroom Speaks’

We are honoured to publish this reflection as part of Take One Action’s ‘Beyond the Review‘ initiative, supported by the Year of Stories 2022 Community Stories Fund. In August 2022, we hosted a two-part workshop – delivered by by gal-dem’s First Person editor, film critic and author Katie Goh – that invited participants to explore the way personal writing and film criticism can meet. Born out of the workshops, these commissions invite a reflection on the connections between local struggles and global realities in the TOAFF22 programme, while showcasing the talent and insight of the authors and supporting the development of their own practice.

For this instalment, Conor J Molloy has written a reflection on The Mushroom Speaks, screening as part of #TOAFF22 (find out more here).

A still from 'The Mushroom Speaks'. A person in a forest, looking up close at a long and thin mushroom she is holding through a magnifying glass. Bountiful flora surround them.

Filmed over three continents, The Mushroom Speaks is a grounded yet psychedelic exploration of resistance, community and healing enacted through interactions with fungi. 

The Director Marion Neumann utilises a conventional documentary interview style, spliced together with intense timelapses of natural processes, like mycelium network growth and colonisation. These sublime images are contextualised with subtitling, confronting the viewer with simultaneously philosophical and scientific ideas like, “when given enough food and shelter, a fungal network may grow endlessly” and “We (humans) are a micro-culture, a subset of the fungal system that defines the world around us.” These metaphysical notions soon become tangible, as the viewer is introduced to the role mushrooms play in climate justice, class struggle, psychology and anthropology. The harmonious flow between image and text, allows the viewer to expand their understanding of what fungi does and can do: as we absorb the information in several ways, much like certain mushrooms have learnt to absorb radiation and plastic into their diets. 

As the film progresses, the viewer’s consciousness of how vital fungi is grows. We become aware of things like – “The oldest living organism is a 2000 year old network of mycelium, the size of 3 blue whales” and are later presented with a comparison between mycelial network patterns and the morning routine of a person. We humans develop patterns in order to sustain ourselves and others, similar to that of mushrooms. When we consider that we are working in tandem with mycelial networks – who provide the information that grows the food we eat – often dubbed ‘the world wood web’, we can understand how intrinsically affecting our behaviour is on one another. 

This film is not one that aims to conquer mushrooms as totally understandable creatures, but instead offers a window into their multifaceted existence. These varying processes of mushroom activity take place in the otherwise familiar landscapes of cities, homes, woodlands, laboratories and mines, and are scored by sound that flows between noise and music, bubbling away viscerally throughout. This uncanny soundtrack is a perfect accompaniment to a film that is all about fungi – a lifeform that Terrence Mckenna – the mystic whose writing the film gets its name from – describes as having: “no home of one planet, for many worlds scattered through the shining disc of the galaxy have conditions that allow my spores life…”

This film is one that I couldn’t stop thinking about because it does so well at encapsulating the spiritual greatness of these creatures, whilst also being wholly practical. When I was three years old I ate a mushroom found in my kindergarten playground, only to be rushed to hospital after it was wrongly identified as a deathcap. This experience made me aware from an early age the power of these things, not from a perspective of potential toxicity, but that they are abundant and endlessly multifaceted. Mycelium for example can be used as a totally sustainable building material that is stronger than concrete, yet also eats away the deadly waste we humans have created out of our short sighted and compartmentalised view of nature. We have much to learn from fungi, and this film is a great place to start. I recommend viewing of The Mushroom Speaks with others, so the intensely hopeful, and humbling message it imparts can be discussed and comprehended communally.