I love to learn about stuff we tend to take for granted in our world. There are so many things I typically fail to notice—dirt, moss, the water table, earthworms—the list of things that are below me and therefore often overlooked is long. So when documentaries featuring what usually goes unseen or unconsidered show up in my recommended list, I just can’t help myself. I must know what wild and wonderful world God has hidden for us to discover.
Naturally, for this reason, I was drawn to Fantastic Fungi. Mushrooms! Why are they weird? Why are they wonderful? What is their contribution to the global society of human and non-human creatures? Tell me all of the things! Fantastic Fungi does that, and more.
Fantastic Fungi: What to Expect
The nature documentary Fantastic Fungi is directed by Louie Schwartzberg, narrated by Brie Larson, and available to watch via Netflix, Amazon Prime, VUDU, Apple TV, or Google Play. You will discover that fungi truly are fantastic, from the great underground network of fungi called mycelium, to the mushroom’s role in decomposition, and beyond. With beautiful timelapse video footage and powerful narration that introduces just how essential and integrated fungi are in our global environment, Fantastic Fungi will have you captivated from the start.
And you thought mushrooms were only good on pizza.
A word of caution: I watched Fantastic Fungi with my ten-year-old son, who loves all created things. I forgot that there are mushrooms that are also used as hallucinogenics, and that this documentary might touch upon that part of the fungal world. Indeed, there is mention of particular types of mushrooms in this context, but it does so to provide historical background for an introduction to scientists’ exploration and research of mushrooms’ medicinal healing properties. This is truly a profound feature of fungi, but probably not a conversation I would have proactively ventured into with my ten-year-old kiddo.
So, parents, unless you’re like me and enjoy having frank and open conversations about magic mushrooms and transcendental experiences, you might not want to watch this with your kids.
Finding the Love: Faithifying Your Viewing
Until this film, I did not think much of fungi. Many people think they’re gross, including 3/5ths of my family. I like to spy the strange varieties in bloom (can we call it that?) in the woods, and I’ve watched in awe as drops of water from my hose have hit some fungus and launched a cloud of spores heavenward. But that’s about it. Fungus seems kind of gross.
There aren’t any mushrooms in the Bible. It’s true, I did a quick search on Biblegateway.com and neither mushrooms or fungus appear in Scripture. However, these magnificent members of creation were here millions of years before humans, preparing the planet for the vast biodiversity we have the privilege of experiencing today. They are the silent soldiers, the coroners of the kingdom, the keepers of carbon underneath the surface of the earth, the communication webs that forests use to share nutrients with wounded or diseased trees. In profound ways, creation could not continue to be creation without fungi.
“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong,” Paul shares. “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him” (1 Corinthians 1:27-29 NIV).
And isn’t this what fungi are, the lowly and the despised? And isn’t this what fungi do, nullify the things that are? Break down the bodies of things absent of spirit and return them to the earth from which they came? This lowly thing filters our water. This despised thing is to thank for things like penicillin and portobello burgers. And this despised thing will be the one that returns us to the dust we came from (Genesis 3:19). No one can boast before the fungi.
I come to the vast spaces of national forests and grand canyons, barrier reefs and kelp forests, ocean shores and great lakes to be humbled. I come to the museums and zoos, the city parks and backyards and fields of my youth to experience wonder. These grand things are capsules of the glory of God, and yet all of them would be nothing without fungi. I would be nothing without fungi. Those gross clumps of not-quite-plants-but-what-then-are-they growing in the grass and breaking down dead stuff are bringing new life, new life everywhere, the very mechanism of resurrections and rebirth around the globe.
Isn’t that humbling? God chose the lowly things of this world, so that no one may boast before him. I will never look at a mushroom the same way.
If you want to experience more of the fantastic fungal world after watching the film, you might join the Fungi Global Summit, a virtual summit happening this weekend (October 15-17, 2021), for free!