Leonardo DiCaprio’s new documentary, “Before the Flood,” has been on YouTube for just a few days, but it already has millions of views.
The documentary is a moving, uncompromising look at climate change, produced by both DiCaprio and National Geographic. In the documentary, DiCaprio, who’s been an outspoken supporter of climate action, gives us a refreshing, very frank look at what the climate change situation is really like.
DiCaprio doesn’t pull his punches on the big stuff, but what actually fascinated me were some of the smaller, simpler, more emotional moments.
“Before the Flood” is an hour and a half long, and I can’t recommend watching it enough, mostly because of these five affecting, emotional moments that stayed with me once the movie was done.
1. The quiet moment when a researcher admits how much the natural world means to him.
Near the beginning of the film, DiCaprio goes up to Greenland to check out the glaciers and ice sheets. You’ll get to see amazing footage of crevasses and ice floes, and he also does some really cool interviews, including one with a local hunter.
But one moment in this scene stands out: DiCaprio is standing with Dr. Enric Sala, a marine ecologist and National Geographic explorer, watching some narwhals come up before them. You can actually hear the whales click and purr.
Then, just at the end, Sala turns to DiCaprio and says, unbidden, “You know, I don’t want to be on a planet without these animals.”
2. The moment in Beijing that made me think about my own family.
A short while later, the crew is in Beijing talking to a Chinese woman who’s holding an air mask in her hand. She explains what it’s like to live surrounded by Beijing’s legendarily bad air pollution, mentioning that her family puts on their masks when they step outside and feed the cat.
“When the air is bad it hurts my throat,” the woman says.
The scene isn’t as visually impressive as drone footage of smoke stacks or giant industrial machines, but it stuck with me all the same. It sounds like the kind of everyday comment someone in my family might make.
3. The moment when Sunita Narain called out DiCaprio’s wishful thinking and told him to get real.
Later, DiCaprio goes to India to talk to Sunita Narain, an environmentalist and activist. About 30% of India — roughly 300 million people — still live with no electricity, so the discussion turns to how to bring power to people without resorting to fossil fuels.
If you’re like me and like thinking about the nitty-gritty of climate change — not just the big goals but the hard truths and big questions — this is an amazing exchange. But the best part is when she calls out the U.S. for wanting India to move to renewables while the U.S. drags their feet.
“If it was that easy, I would have really liked the U.S. to move towards solar, but you haven’t,” Narain says. “Let’s put our money where our mouth is.”
It’s real, uncompromising conversation and actually feels awesome. It’s a “take that” to every simpering, milquetoast politician who’s more concerned with firing up their base and talking pretty than getting results.
4. The moment I’ll remember every time I watch a snowy movie from now on.
While they were filming “The Revenant,” they actually had to have the snow trucked in. It was too warm. In fact, they ended up having to fly halfway around the world to frosty Argentina in order to continue filming.
I remember “The Revenant.” I remember the snow and the cold and the biting frost of that film. To think of future movies having to truck in snow is just so … weird. I’m not sure I’ll be able to see any frozen, snowy landscape without wondering how much snow was there and how much had to be trucked in.
5. Finally, what might have been my favorite moment: when DiCaprio asked Obama a really uncomfortable question.
This is my favorite moment in the film by far.
“You are the leader of the free world,” says DiCaprio. “You have access to information that most people do not. What makes you terrified for the future?”
Obama’s answer? He waxes poetic about his kids for a moment, but when it comes down to it, he says, a huge amount of people live near the ocean. If the sea levels rise, those people will need to flee to somewhere — and that could be a problem.
“In very hard-headed terms, you’ve got to worry about the national security implications of this. And the capacity for the existing world order as we understand it to survive the kinds of strains that the scientists are predicting.”
In truth, this movie is full of amazing moments. It was really hard to pick just five.
There were so many awesome scenes, like when DiCaprio visits the mayor of Miami Beach, which is already experiencing flooding, or when he feeds rescued orangutans in Indonesia and tried his Italian on Pope Francis.
But in the end, “Before the Flood” has two simple messages.
One, we have to consume differently. We need to think about where our food and lifestyles are coming from. In many ways, though, we’re beyond the stage where simple actions can solve everything. So two, and perhaps more importantly, we all need to vote. We need world leaders who will invest in renewables and put taxes on carbon.
The final segment, by the way — where DiCaprio gives a speech to the United Nations — might be the most affecting. I found it hard to not tear up. But I’m not going to link to it because you really owe it to yourself to watch the whole movie.
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