“The ocean is not Republican, and it’s not Democratic. All it knows how to do is rise.” Theses are words spoken by Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine in Before the Flood, the newest climate-change documentary that follows Leonardo DiCaprio on a tumultuous journey around the world. No, climate change is not liberal propaganda designed to crush capitalism. It is real, it is happening, and it is truly frightening. Deeply ambitious and undeniably sincere, Before The Flood focuses on the current threats facing the planet as well as the actions individuals can take in order to reduce their impact.
Before the Flood begins with DiCaprio’s designation as the United Nations Messenger of Peace in 2014. The film then shifts into a succession of interviews with scientists, politicians and other crucial figureheads who are all engaged in the issue of climate change. While DiCaprio may not be a scientist himself, he is able to navigate these interviews with ease, serving as an effective translator who is able to synthesize highly complex information into laymen’s terms.
Before the Flood is wide in scope, traveling all over the world in its attempt to expose the perils of climate change. In the Arctic, we witness the terrifying potential of melting ice and surging oceans. In China, we glimpse civilians feebly clutching cloth in an attempt to evade the toxic smog that threatens to poison them. Even worse than the environmental destruction, though, are the many people in government with the power to remedy the issues but refuse to be part of the solution because they won’t even admit that there’s a problem. As a result, Before the Flood paints a picture that is primarily bleak, riddled with pessimism and corporate greed.
Although DiCaprio’s minimal scientific background and huge carbon footprint could have undermined the integrity of Before the Flood, the film is able to relatively dismiss these issues by facing them head on. DiCaprio even acknowledges that he is not a climate-change expert on several occasions, cleverly avoiding criticism from skeptics.
In fact, DiCaprio’s Hollywood status offers immense value to the film. He is a face well known to the public and therefore an ideal catalyst for spreading the word. His unique position also opened doors for film interviews with crucial leaders such as President Barack Obama and even the Pope—a feat that simply could not have been accomplished by any scientist or politician. Coupled with National Geographic and free streaming access, Before the Flood has the potential to be the most impactful climate-change documentary since Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth.
Education and activism is at the core of the film, and it often points out the ways in which public opinion has the ability to influence politics, using gay marriage as an example. Obama was against it when it was unpopular and then for it when a majority of the country approved. This is a reassuring point. It essentially places the fate of the future not in leaders with shrouded intentions but in the hands of the people. After all, an educated public is the best army to combat climate change. Before the Flood is simply a means of arming them with the tools they need.
While the film may lack a distinct target audience, Before the Flood is a definitive call to action. It speaks to individuals who indulge in excess, to those who wear masks of neutrality, to the uneducated who lack an opinion in general. The film hopes to transform them all into advocates for change or plant a seed that will prod them in the right direction.