Leonardo DiCaprio wonders at all he doesn’t know about climate change while being a UN Messenger of Peace for the same.
Before the Flood, the documentary directed by actor and director Fisher Stevens, follows Leonardo DiCaprio’s personal probe into the urgent challenges facing the planet concerning climate change. While the expectation of climate change documentaries is that they will try to convince naysayers to the validity of the backing science, Before the Flood doesn’t even try. Instead, it urges the US to vote for congressmen and women that will instigate changes like a carbon tax, and visits areas that have already felt the disastrous results of our impact on the environment.
Watching DiCaprio speak to government officials like President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, scientists, and activists like Sunita Narain, across the globe, we get neither a sense of hopefulness nor a sense that any individual can meaningfully take steps to amend the damage that has already been done to our ecosystems. In fact, DiCaprio constantly muses on his pessimism regarding climate change and wonders if anything can be done or if we have already fallen over the edge. This sentiment, coupled with the cobbled images of deforestation in Malaysia for the production of palm oil and of the melting ice caps in Greenland, only furthers the feeling of being overwhelmed when we consider all the ways in which human production and consumption affect the environment. This is not exactly the position we expect from DiCaprio, a climate change activist who was named a United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2014 for the same reason.
We watch DiCaprio address the UN twice, and we are still left to wonder why this honor was bestowed on him. After all, we see DiCaprio talk to director Alejandro Inarritu on the set of The Revenant, for which they both won Academy Awards, about their relocation from Canada to Argentina in search of snow to finish filming. Their takeaway from this experience seems to be the evident lack of snow in Alberta, rather than the financial and environmental costs of relocating a crew of at least 200 people to film the movie. The documentary addresses this very thought when it says it paid a voluntary carbon tax.
The best shred of hope that the movie provides comes from NASA’s Director of Earth Sciences Division, Piers Sellers, who speaks about his concerns about his family’s future in view of his diagnosis with Pancreatic Cancer. According to Sellers, if we are able to mobilize a change into renewable energies, the world’s temperature would cool again and stabilize, something we had yet to hear from any other scientist. But because the documentary barely addresses individual actions, it is hard to say that it seeks to move people. At best, it can only move people to do their own research, like DiCaprio seems to be doing, about all the complications that hinder a global move toward renewable energy. Only right before the credits does the documentary list actions you can take to reduce your carbon footprint. All in all, the documentary fails to mobilize, but instead uncovers the multifaceted challenges that must be addressed in conjunction with moving toward renewable energies.
Before the Flood is playing in select theaters, and will air on National Geographic on Oct 30 at 9/8c.