With his string of celebrated performances over the past decade-plus, it’s safe to say that Leonardo DiCaprio is part of an elite group of Hollywood actors, balancing respect and influence within the industry with widespread popularity among moviegoers. Take, for instance, the rapturous response online from the actor’s long-awaited Oscar victory earlier this year for his fiercely committed performance inAlejandro González Iñárritu’s The Revenant. That film’s period setting took a stark look at mankind’s relationship with nature, an appropriate subtext given DiCaprio’s devotion to the environment. The now-Oscar-winning actor takes a far more direct approach to his passion for Earth’s future with Before the Flood, a brand-new documentary that fervently tackles the battle against climate change.
The film follows DiCaprio’s two-year journey of discovery as he travels the world as a United Nations Messenger of Peace to examine the far-reaching effects that climate change has yielded across the world, including China, India, Indonesia and the Arctic. Along the way, the actor engages in sit-downs with a variety of scientists and activists directly involved in the global phenomenon as well as key influencers supporting the cause, including President Barack Obama, Secretary of State John Kerry, Pope Francis and SpaceX and Tesla founder Elon Musk. If all that makes Before the Flood sound like it has a distinct agenda, that’s because it most certainly does.
Some documentary films aim to offer a more objective take on a controversial issue, but Before the Flood has little regard for doubters of climate change. Director Fisher Stevens – who won an Oscar himself for 2009 documentary The Cove – and screenwriter Mark Monroe take a definitive stance against the political infrastructure and rampant misinformation that has thus far prevented tangible legislative progress on the issue, and Before the Flood serves a dual purpose of shedding light on these obstacles while emphasizing the growing consensus within the scientific community (97 percent agreement, the film states at one point). To the its credit, Before the Flood does propose numerous solutions (e.g., a carbon tax that would penalize the use of certain fossil fuels) to address climate change on a grand scale as well as what viewers can do to generate immediate improvement in the environment.
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For DiCaprio, Before the Flood feels like a natural extension of his long-standing environmental activism. The film touches briefly on his initial discovery of the issue of climate change during a meeting with then-Vice President Al Gore and the criticism lobbied at the actor when he was selected by the United Nations to aid them in their goal of spreading climate change awareness. Yet, it never falls too far into becoming a vanity piece focused on bolstering DiCaprio’s own role in the whole “going green” movement. After all, DiCaprio had long ago proclaimed his hopes to save the planet, having narrated, produced and co-wrote 2007 documentary The 11th Hour.
While Before the Flood‘s decision to lean so heavily on DiCaprio’s perspective could come across as merely capitalizing on his notoriety to further its own message, it also lends the film a more personal note than it would otherwise have. DiCaprio witnesses the devastation of climate change firsthand in his travels – including a weather-related filming delay on The Revenant – and a story from his youth serves as a particularly poignant framing device.
Before the Flood opens and closes with DiCaprio’s discussion of Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych painting The Garden of Earthly Delights, a piece of artwork that shows humanity’s progression from creation to debauchery to ultimate doom. The metaphor between Bosch’s painting and the climate change phenomenon may be particularly on the nose, but that doesn’t make it any less effective a way to illustrate the urgency involved in turning the environment around as soon as possible.
The obvious political agenda behind Before the Flood may turn off those who still maintain that climate change is a myth, but the evidence presented in the film should at least cause open-minded viewers to rethink their position on the issue. It does seem like the team behind the film have the best intentions at heart, even if Before the Flood does start to feel a bit too didactic by the end. The final moments even include a breakdown of action items that viewers can engage in to join the effort in limiting the long-term damage done to our planet. However, given the circumstances laid out by the film, perhaps a call to action is a necessary precaution. Hopefully, Before the Flood can influence its intended audience – namely, those who remain skeptical of the truth – to take a closer look at the reality behind climate change.
Leonardo DiCaprio takes viewers on a global tour exploring the ramifications of - and possible solutions to - climate change, and Before the Flood makes a compelling case for immediate action.