Film review: Before the Flood

Leonardo DiCaprio, in the most important film of his life, raises global alarm about climate change


A still from ‘Before the Flood’
A still from ‘Before the Flood’

At one point in Before the Flood, the new documentary on climate change featuring actor Leonardo DiCaprio, we are shown a clip of a Donald Trump rally. Not only does Trump deny climate change, in his characteristic fashion, he makes it into a crude punchline and tosses it to the audience. “It’s supposed to be 70 degrees here, but its freezing. Where is Global Warming? We need some Global warming,” he says. The crowd responds with cheers. The film was made available for free on YouTube last week just before the US Presidential Elections hoping to have a bearing on the results. A day after Trump has been elected as the President of the US, reports of him inducting Myron Ebell into the Environmental Protection Agency transition team has emerged. Ebell is a known climate change skeptic who says it is “nothing to worry about”. Perhaps more worrying than climate change itself is the climate change deniers – an unholy nexus of big corporations, powerful politicians and some media outlets – that the film acquaints us to.

Trump’s ascension to power is terrible news for the efforts being made to tackle climate change. But the film concludes that key to change is still public awareness and that there is hope. Before the Flood does its damnedest to make us feel the urgency of a cause we are yet to wake up to. The film, directed by Fisher Stevens and written by Mark Monroe, may not cover new grounds for those clued into the conversation around climate change. But to the uninitiated—which, let’s admit, is the majority—it makes a solid, scientific case that global warming is the biggest threat the world faces, how everything from national security, international conflicts to food and water scarcity is connected to it. It considers the complexities and gives room to some uncomfortable questions – one of which comes from Sunita Narain, Centre for Science & Environment during a meeting in Delhi. It presents some viable solutions, the changes we can bring in through modifications in our lifestyle and is even occasionally introspective.

Part of why it is so effective is DiCaprio’s presence on the screen. We see DiCaprio, the global superstar using his access and money to meet with world leaders and fly in private jets to farthest corners of the world. We also see a deeply personal journey; the film is bookended by an analogy with Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych painting Garden of Earthly Delights that used to hang in front of DiCaprio’s crib as a child. The lines between the actor’s on and off screen persona sometimes blur beautifully; an aspect that manifests in the on-location footage from The Revenant – a revisionist Man Vs Wild story that won him his first Best Actor Oscar. Instead of the snowy weather in Canadian wilderness, the film crew was greeted with heated winds and as a result of which they had to move the shoot to Argentina. And in Antarctica, where we are told the glaciers will melt by 2040 that could lead to possible wipeout of its unique wildlife, he gets emotional, “It feels like a weird, surreal movie,” he says. The effect is devastating.

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