Take Caution Before Watching ‘Don't Look Up’
“Don’t Look Up,” directed by Adam McKay, came out in December 2021. It’s a disaster film about an impending comet approaching Earth and the two scientists that discovered the danger. The entirety of the film criticizes and satirizes the irresponsible decisions of the government, celebrities, and the mass public as they try to figure out how to save the planet.
Many people that have seen and reported on the film so far have the understanding that it is an allegory for climate change. That makes a point to satirize the actions and decisions of government organizations and influential figures like NASA, the president, and celebrities. This film does a wonderful job of using dark humor and satire to parallel the severity of our current reality. However, there are some decisions that this film makes that are questionable at best, and patronizingly preachy at worst.
Starting with the strong points of “Don’t Look Up,” it’s very refreshing in its approach to a disaster movie. Mckay is well known for portraying the horrifying realities caused by politicians (Examples can be found in his other films in the same vein ‘The Big Short” and “Vice”). “Don’t Look Up” strikes an interesting balance where nothing feels completely unhinged except for the decisions the politicians and celebrities make, which ultimately works to benefit the surrealism of their choices overall.
I thought it was interesting how the pursuit of money and power paralyzed the global leaders' decisions on what to do about the comet. You even hear the line from Meryl Streep's character, President Janie Orlean, when she hears how there's a 100% chance that this comment would hit Earth; she lowers the number to 70% to allow herself to win an election. That pursuit of power paralyzed her ability to make a measured decision about something that would end all life on Earth. Something else comparable to this happened much later on in the movie when other world governments, after deciding to take the comet seriously, sabotage each other's attempts to take care of the imminent threat. This was likely in an attempt to be the sole savior of the planet and reap the glory.
The film also does a great job acknowledging the flippant ways climate change is being handled by our world leaders, and the mass hysteria that floods the general public in times of disaster (as we’ve seen throughout the entire COVID-19 pandemic). At several points throughout the movie, the character's actions and decisions are terrifyingly realistic. However, there are some glaring issues in the ways it chooses to critique society and the actors they choose to play the strawmen.
If the goal of this film is to raise awareness or be a call to action, the entire atmosphere is so dark that it leaves the viewer resigned to their fate and hopeless as opposed to empowered and ready to fight for change. The constant pleading that scientists Randall and Kate, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, have to do with politicians and billionaires to get them to care about the planet is incredibly disheartening. It left me as a viewer thinking, “if these scientists can’t even convince them while looking them in the eye, how can I, a normal person, hope to make any real change?”
In addition to this, I, like many other people, am a bit frustrated by the comet analogy for climate change as a whole. One of the main reasons climate change is not being taken as seriously as it should be is because it's not a tangible thing that we can see the result of immediately. I feel like it's a bit strange that they chose that to be the analogy. I’d hope that in reality, people wouldn’t take the word of politicians when they can see their demise by simply looking up.
The final and biggest grievance that I have with this film is that it is so nihilistic. It left me with this horrible sinking feeling in my stomach, knowing that no matter how hard I fought for any kind of change in the climate crisis, the 1% would keep benefiting themselves and leave the rest of us here to parish on a burning planet, sans atmosphere.
Some criticisms of this film have been that it's very preachy, or that it is too unrealistic — that our world governments would never completely ignore such an obvious issue. But I think the film’s message being so obvious to a normal person is what makes it so much more horrifying. Hopefully, a “planet killer” comet would be an immediate issue, right? I think the same thing could have been said 10 years ago about a global pandemic. Yet here we are in 2022, on year three of a global pandemic, with some people underestimating the severity or believing it's a government hoax.
Overall this film was very necessary; for the past few years, many have been to hell and back fighting for equal justice and to save our climate. However, as an activist, seeing this movie make those fears actualized is cathartic as it is completely demoralizing. This film was draining, and I advise that fellow activists (and anyone that cares about the world at large) to take caution before watching this and take care of yourself afterward by not over-exerting your mental and emotional state.