Like his first disaster movie, Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio's latest, The 11th Hour, lets us stare into his squinting, twinkling eyes as we perch on the deck of a doomed ship headed for an inevitable disaster wherein 90 percent of life will be lost.
The ship, in this case, is Earth. And its passengers, according to the dozens of experts rattling off pithy prophecies of demise, are headed toward the iceberg (or lack thereof) of environmental catastrophe. The difference, of course, is that we actually know we are boarding a sinking ship and yet we are still lining up around the block to purchase boarding passes (a note to the frugal reader: These tickets are cheapest at Wal-Mart).
The 11th Hour will inevitably be compared to An Inconvenient Truth and, indeed, the section that discusses global warming has many similarities, including a line graph depicting global temperature, the final spike of which jabs upward and into viewers' hearts.
But it's actually closer in form to The Corporation, the essayistic and comprehensive documentary that examines corporate power. DiCaprio, who served as a producer on the film, is only onscreen for a few minutes and, though one senses he is completely earnest, unlike Al Gore in An Inconvenient Truth, his presence seems pointless.
The majority of the film, which covers a wide range of environmental topics, is made up of interviews with experts, intellectuals and leaders, including Mikhail Gorbachev, Stephen Hawking and Santa Fe's own Kenny Ausubel (the founder of Bioneers) interspersed with footage of dying fish, smoggy skylines or whatever images correspond to the particular type of doom being discussed.
Though much of the information is not new to the choir, the cumulative effect is powerful and serves as a further wake-up call to action. As one expert puts it: "It's not just the 11th hour; it's the 11th hour, the 59th minute and 59th second." In short, the film argues that if we don't act now we will bring about our own extinction.
Thankfully, just as the audience is about to asphyxiate itself with popcorn bags, the film takes a turn for the hopeful.
From eco-friendly architecture to toxin-absorbing mushrooms, the technologies to save our planet exist; the issue is one of personal and political will. As Ausubel, who's been busy with international press tours and openings, tells SFR, "An Inconvenient Truth dealt solely with problems, The 11th Hour offers solutions."
The root of these solutions is certainly cultural, and this film should continue the process of mainstreaming environmentalism. So choir: Attend-but bring a non-recycling niece or Hummer-driving uncle. And please, don't drive your SUV and then alleviate your liberal guilt with queasy, self-mocking jokes about your hypocrisy. Live the change!