Image from https://www.needpix.com/photo/1409537/

Don’t Look Up is a star-studded film in which PhD student Kate Dibiaski (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a comet which is six months away from a collision with Earth. She and her slightly eccentric supervisor Randall Mindy (Leonardo Dicaprio) realise that if the comet reaches its target it will spark an extinction event wiping out all life on the planet.

Together with Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), they take their findings to American President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), an intellectually lightweight polls obsessive who bears a resemblance to Donald Trump. This is the point when ‘if’ turns into ‘when’ as the White House, media and social media combine to treat the news of an apocalypse as slightly less important than a pop star’s break up with her boyfriend. The pop star (Ariana Grande), steals their limelight leaving Dibiaski visibly frustrated and Mindy buying in to daytime chat show host’s Brie Evantree’s (Cate Blanchett), agenda.

The problem with the film is that its targets seem fairly random. It’s never clear whether the film wants to make a political statement or be a satire on public reaction to the climate emergency (or possibly Covid). In the end, it does neither very well. Although there are some humorous moments, these are in short supply. But if you really want to make a film about the climate emergency why take the easy route? I understand that the comet is a metaphor, but perhaps reducing the argument to a one-off drama is what ultimately undermines the important message the film is attempting to portray.

In a sense the film’s lack of focus comes from the apparent belief that they are not laughing with us but at us. That sense of a higher purpose comes through and yet, in choosing the dramatic one-off event, the film’s writers play into a belief that the public really don’t understand what is happening. Whilst that may well be true, having assembled a fine cast and taken over 2 hours (at least some of which appeared to be pretty superfluous to the plot), this would have been a good chance to put science on display. But that would have meant explaining that life on the planet is threatened, not by a one-off event, but by the cumulative effects of little actions by all of us and the pursuit of profit above all else by an elite minority.

Sure, there’s a nod toward Elon Musk in the smartphone boss (Mark Rylance), who seemingly controls the White House, but this is only part of the issue facing us currently.

Science itself as a credible source of information is under threat, not because ordinary people are obsessed with their phones’ algorithms, but because its conclusions threaten the existence of global capitalism. Far better to let the world gradually choke us all to death than interfere in the divine right of shareholders to ever greater rewards.

I’m not sure whether the film’s writer/director Adam McKay (who has made better films, 2015’s The Big Short and 2018’s Vice for example) has ever seen Contagion, a far better film on every front because it took its subject matter and its audience seriously. It believed we could be encouraged to think for ourselves and to reach the right conclusions. Co-writer David Sarota told the Denver Post, “A movie like this is supposed to make people think.” But it seems to me that Don’t Look Up underestimates the intelligence of its audience by buying into a narrative that we are incapable of reaching a sophisticated conclusion when provided with the right information. Far better to develop caricatures and crude satire than to encourage us to actually look around at what’s happening now. This is all the more disappointing given McKay’s comment to the Denver Post that the film was motivated by “the world’s woeful response to what is literally the greatest threat to life in human history.” This goes down as yet another wasted opportunity to do something about climate change.

10 thought on “Review: Don’t Look Up”
  1. I too found the film a little shallow after seeing it hailed as “the Doctor Strangelove for our modern times”. It has been hailed as a masterpiece but it struck me more as a piece of modern abstract art where the critics tell you that the blank canvas in front of you has hidden depths and meaning or that the artist has conveyed a certain message if only you could see it. The Emperor’s new clothes if you like.
    It had no punch and appeared to be more of a hollywood in joke than addressing the real problems.
    As with much of hollywood’s output the focus on the US as being the only superpower able to address the problems facing the world rather than a worldwide approach being worked out between all nations. The whole film seemed to reflect the position the US considers it occupies, that of protecting the US and acting in the US interest alone (America first) and was made for western consumption.
    I cannot imagine this film being made by Russia, China, India or any other major nation but maybe Godzilla had a hidden message that I missed.
    A sad reflection of the inability to reach meaningful cooperation at the recent COP26.

    1. Thanks David Yes, I too noted that it was either America saves the World or the World doesn’t get saved. But, I guess we have come to expect that from Hollywood. Perhaps thousands will take to the streets shouting “they lied to us” as a result of seeing it. But, I rather suspect not.

  2. Bollocks although it is pretty superficial , it makes a few relevant points, firstly politicians have no interest but their self interest, people do not matter, the selfishness of the elites come through look after ourselves not anybody else

    1. Hi Ron. Thanks for the comment. I never claimed it didn’t make some good points. It just did so in a scattergun approach. I thought both Vice and The Big Short were far better. Perhaps I just expect too much from filmmakers, after all they are part of the elite they are poking fun at.

  3. A fair review from the perspective of an educated public, though compared to the background of absolutely meaningless amoral tosh that normally gets screened, a little harsh.
    By coincidence, I watched the film only yesterday, and though it’s full of confused cliche, it has some touching amusing moments, right up until the comic Eden sketch at the very end…

    1. I did acknowledge that it had some amusing moments. I quite liked the ending. But Adam McKay has made some really good films and I was just disappointed that this one failed to hit its targets.

  4. Hi ,
    For me this film encapsulates everything that is wrong with the way we live today .
    It was a “scales falling from eyes” experience .
    I would highly recommend everyone views it , it COULD just change our world for the better ! 💐🙏🏻

    1. Glad you enjoyed it. I didn’t hate it, I just felt a bit let down by it. If, as a result of this film, one person has the scales removed from their eyes then I guess it has made a positive contribution. I have to say though that its message was a thoroughly depressing one where no matter what we do the inevitable will happen.

  5. Thanks for this, I’ve not seen it but I’ve been mulling over many questions that have arisen since reading a variety of positive reviews on fb. I think back to the film The Age of Stupid, made in 2009 – interesting that it’s set in 2055 which is declared too late and interesting that governments keep referring to 2050 when the science and climate groups all state very strongly that this decade is the crucial time to act…..when I write to MPs to point this out it is ignored and they refer back to 2050!!!
    Once we step back from the tunnel vision of the virus we get better clarity and we can see that there has been a deliberate attempt to keep us fearful and compliant. By seeing the bigger picture we can start asking more useful questions such as where is the societal responsibility regarding climate inaction? Why are there no emergency measures or mandates in place to halt/reverse/slow down our greatest threat?
    I like and respect films that expose or highlight massive threats/injustices to society/nature/planet but do they actually achieve anything? The issue of Big Pharma corruption as highlighted in The Constant Gardener made in 2005 has only accelerated further in the wrong direction, Even It’s A Wonderful Life made in 1946, exposing the greed and corruption of a banker and land owner creating slaves of the working class has hurtled forward at lightning speed. Many more have been made including an array of social films by Ken Loach who I deeply admire but….. what is needed to stir the people enough to rise up against a relatively small group of megalomaniacs? It seems that films of this nature, no matter how important, do not go beyond a brief and temporary affect and probably preach to the converted.

    1. In as much as these films might open up people’s eyes to what is going on around them I have no great objection to them. My issue with this one was that although it certainly had its moments overall I didn’t really think it was that good. But, that is just my opinion.

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