On the surface, Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary, Before the Flood, is a film about climate change, but on a deeper level, it’s about the human experience. Director Fisher Stevens and producer DiCaprio weave a story that examines how everyday people strive to make sense of the enormously complex issue that is climate change. In the United States, the media coverage is filled with talking heads and politicians who portray the issue in a way that leaves the average person feeling overwhelmed and confused. Before the Flood acknowledges this and offers some much-needed clarity. It is a bridge toward understanding, hoping to counteract the tendency we have of turning away from problems that seem out of our control. With a thoughtfulness that is uncommon for a documentary, it guides us through the examination process and, in the end, leaves us feeling that a solution, while not simple, is actually within reach. We’re not as helpless to solve the problem as we think we are. In fact, we may be the only solution.
Before the Flood feels more like a Hollywood action/adventure film than a documentary. This is due to the fact that DiCaprio is the main character of the film. He plays himself, an everyday man who has found himself in the spotlight, occupying the unlikely position of being Hollywood-famous, yet possessing a deep sense of responsibility for the Earth. He is on a journey to get answers, and we are along for the ride.
At the beginning of the film, we learn that in 2014, because of his longtime dedication to environmental issues, DiCaprio was appointed by the United Nations to be an Ambassador of Peace with a special focus on climate change. In 1998, he founded the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, an environmental non-profit organization. Then in 2007, he produced, co-wrote and narrated the climate change documentary, The 11th Hour. Now with Before the Flood, DiCaprio revisits the topic, but this time with a twist.
After twenty years of promoting environmental awareness and seeing very little accomplished by politicians, DiCaprio questions whether it’s actually too late to solve the problem. In a voice-over, he acknowledges his loss of optimism and wonders whether the United Nations chose the wrong person for the job. He decides to embark on a world-wide journey to see if there’s still a chance to solve the problem. In essence, he is searching for hope. DiCaprio’s self-doubt and insecurity make him more relatable, more likable, and immediately hooks the viewer into the film. We are willing to go on this journey with him because in the end, we want to know if it will change his mind. And we, too, want to know if there’s still hope.
DiCaprio’s journey takes us across the Earth, as he interviews scientists, politicians, activists and everyday people who are on the frontlines, dealing with the present-day effects of climate change. Although DiCaprio mostly interviews influential men, from President Barack Obama to Pope Francis, the most intriguing interview is with a woman who is a political and environmental activist. DiCaprio travels to India to meet with Sunita Narain, the Director General of India’s Centre for Science and Environment. During their conversation, Narain becomes visibly impatient with DiCaprio’s description of possible solutions and puts him on the spot, saying it must be the United States that changes its ways. She says the U.S. needs to become less fossil-fuel dependent, and that it is solely the responsibility of the United States to set an example for the rest of the world and lead the way. When DiCaprio tries to steer the conversation in a different direction, Narain shakes her head, then takes out a chart illustrating how much energy the average American uses in one day, compared with the rest of the world. This scene is a highlight of the film and gives Americans a true glimpse of how the rest of the world views the United States: a powerful entity with seemingly little desire to make any real policy changes if they would adversely affect the comfort level of the average American.
The film also examines the people who deny that climate change is occurring. As DiCaprio travels across the Earth and sees real evidence of climate disaster — sea levels rising to the point that entire communities need to relocate — he wonders how the strongly held positions of climate change deniers could possibly be persuasive. What DiCaprio realizes is that climate change deniers don’t have to actually disprove climate change; all they have to do is plant seeds of doubt. If the voting public isn’t 100% convinced that there is a problem, especially if they are confused by the subject, they are willing to look the other way and concentrate on issues they feel are more clear-cut.
Before the Flood is informative, yet feels more like a virtual-reality-theme-park-ride than Climate Change 101. This feeling is achieved through its captivating cinematography, as well as its haunting, mesmerizing score, composed by a team of award-winning artists: Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross (the Academy Award winning duo who wrote the score for The Social Network), Argentine film composer, Gustavo Santaolalla (Academy Award winner for the original scores of Brokeback Mountain and Babel), and the avante-garde, post-rock, Scottish band, Mogwai. The music, itself, is a character in the film. Sometimes it seems to represent DiCaprio’s internal struggle — the sound of his unspoken thoughts and questions — and at other times, it is clearly the sound of the Earth’s answers.
Before the Flood is not just a documentary about climate change, it is also an exposé of the labyrinth of political and economic reasons why so little has been done to remedy the problem. It maps out a solution — one which asks us to stop looking away from the problem and become more informed. By changing how we vote and where we spend our money, average people have the power to write a different ending to the story of humanity’s time on Earth. Before the Flood will be released in theaters beginning October 21, 2016. The film will then be televised beginning October 30 on the National Geographic Channel, in 171 countries and 45 languages.SHARE THIS