There’s this feeling that you get in a dream. You’re trying to fight a monster who will swallow you whole in any minute, but your arms are Jell-O, all your movements are a quarter of the speed they’re supposed to be, and no sound comes out of your mouth as you attempt to scream into the unforgiving void. That’s also how I felt the entire time watching “Don’t Look Up.”
“Don’t Look Up,” a film by Adam McKay released on Netflix on Dec. 24, is all about a nine-kilometer-wide comet (the size of Mount Everest) discovered by Michigan State Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence). If not diverted, in six months, the comet will cause a planet-wide extinction on earth.
Here is Netflix’s précis of the film: “Two astronomers go on a media tour to warn humankind of a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth. The response from a distracted world: Meh.”
Here are the reactions to the comet in the film: The president (Meryl Streep) directs the scientists to “sit tight and assess,” and the big-shot-techy-billionaire businessman (Mark Rylance) comes up with the genius idea to harvest elements from the comet to get trillions of dollars in profit. Meanwhile, the American people divert their attention by creating memes, sexualizing the head scientist (Leonardo DiCaprio), and blindly dividing themselves into the “political” mantras, “Just Look Up” and “Don’t Look Up.” My question is: How satirical really is “Don’t Look Up?”
The movie is intended as an allegory for the American response to climate change, but it also fits with our ignorant response to the pandemic. Watching it gave me such a visceral reaction, because while I get to choose to engage with this movie, I am forced to witness the effects of the pandemic first-hand. The apathetic, agenda-driven response of the bureaucracy, as well as the groupthink, mob-mentality response of the American public are unsettlingly uncanny in comparison to the movie. Almost two years into the pandemic, we are still dealing with the consequences of these responses.
“Don’t Look Up” is an unsettling, disturbing horror of a reflection of what will happen if people continue to ignore science. It very accurately portrays how the American people will divert their attention to profit as opposed to humanity, due to the stranglehold that billionaires have on our culture. The precarious plan in the film to gain a profit from the comet’s minerals — even though everyone would inevitably die from the impact of the comet — further cements the perils of capitalism.
The most terrifying part of viewing this film is that the fictional threat is not too far off from our real, impending future. I was living vicariously through the scientists and their failed attempts to make the people aware (and actually feel deep fear) of the scientific evidence backing humanity’s impending doom. There’s a point in the film when one guy on team “Don’t Look Up” looks at the sky and finally sees the comet; a parallel in real life would be an anti-masker/anti-vaxxer losing a loved one due to COVID-19.
I can see why there might be a negative reaction to the film from the people it portrays. While both climate change and the pandemic pose serious threats to our world, the allegory that the world will end in six months is obviously exaggerated. And, of course, in real life, not all American people are as dumb as the film generalizes; it, at times, seems sophomoric that the film would carry through such clichés. However, for those that may get offended by the portrayal of Americans in the film, I propose taking a step back and examining their own reactions to pressing issues in real life. Perhaps there might be some valid resemblance between them and the characters in the film.
Additionally, there is no denying that the film can be perceived as having a liberal bias. After all, it does not poke too much fun at liberals, while there are constant jabs at conservative stereotypes. However, I don’t necessarily think the film would have been better off with a more well-rounded representation of all perspectives. Even the film stresses that the main problem is not political at all; it affects all of humankind, no matter the stance. Science is apolitical.
If there’s one takeaway I had from watching “Don’t Look Up,” it would be that everybody should watch it. If people do not understand the consequences of the world that scientists talk about, if they are so desensitized to real, imminent dangers, then they should seek a different perspective. That’s the power of storytelling.
It’s one thing to consume allegories of past historical events, previously written stories, the Bible, or anything else that will give us more perspective. It is so much more powerful to be living through the actual events that inspire an allegory one is consuming. Luckily, the star-studded cast (pun intended) and polarizing plot should be enough to make this film a hot topic of conversation.
That feeling of not being able to fight the monster in your dream — that’s the fear we should all have about current events. Everybody should get that icky-yucky feeling while watching the film as a wake-up call to our distracted, capitalist country. We should do whatever we can to think more critically and make a change in our country.