No one survives Adam McKay’s new Netflix exclusive film “Don’t Look Up,” as its biting, satirical caricatures lay waste to American politics, media, and culture. On the surface, the film bills itself as just another predictable, overplayed environmental apocalyptic feature with a pinch of dark comedic.
But if you want just another “climate change will kill us and we have to do something” movie, you’ll have to turn a blind eye to the blistering critiques of government ineptitude, Big Tech greed, and the hysteria “the science” can create in a society. You’ll especially have to ignore the appeals to faith and family as foundational and enduring values when the chips are down.
“Don’t Look Up” stars Leonardo DiCaprio (Dr. Randall Mindy), Jennifer Lawrence (Kate Dibiasky), and Meryl Streep as president of the United States, Janie Orlean. Mindy and his protégé Dibiasky discover that a large comet is on a trajectory to collide with the earth.
President Orlean, an amalgamation of Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, can’t be bothered with the emergency due to the upcoming midterm elections. Meanwhile, her son, White House Chief of Staff Jason Orlean (played by Jonah Hill) is a thinly veiled mixture of Hunter Biden with a little Donald Trump Jr. He spends the film jonesing for his next cocaine fix and TV hit made possible by his mother’s political success.
When Mindy and Dibiasky meet complete inaction from the White House, they turn to the media, portrayed by a talk show called “The Rip” starring Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry). McKay would have done as well to have Joy Behar and Whoopie Goldberg play the parts and name the show “The View.”
Make no mistake, however, McKay didn’t spare the so-called “conservative” media nor the ubiquity of Trump rallies. Both call on all supporters loyal to the president to refuse to look up at the night sky and the visible comet marking humanity’s impending doom.
To complete the trifecta of institutional dysfunction, the U.S. government gets in bed with big tech mogul Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) when the problem comes to head. The plan is to break up the comet in such a manner as to then be able to mine its rare earth minerals for the advancement of all life on planet earth. And if you buy that one, Isherwell has a bridge in Brooklyn to sell you. He stands to make an obscene fortune from the venture all while ensuring President Orlean’s reelection.
Throughout the film, Mindy and Dibiasky contribute their share of antics to the chaos. The Dibiasky character shows why scientists are good for about one thing: presenting facts and not policy solutions. She spends the film doing hysterical television appearances, hitting the hash pipe, and contemplating suicide. Mindy, on the other hand, embraces the opportunity and takes on the role of the “handsome scientist” being slowly seduced by fame and the anchor of “The Rip,” Brie Evantee.
The real star of the show is of course the comet itself. Audience members who find McKay’s doomsday comet to be a one-to-one analogy of what will happen if nothing is done about climate change are simply missing the point. McKay has already shown himself too clever to settle for such unimaginative comparisons. He knows global catastrophe from something like global warming is little more than a political talking point.
Viewers would do better to think of this “comet” not as a gross and obvious correlative to rising sea levels, but something much more ominous. The film wants us to know that if things continue as they are in American society, culture, and politics, it won’t take a comet to destroy us. We’ll destroy ourselves far before any such event can get to us.
Far from being a stand-in for some apocalyptic environmental event or worldwide death plague, Comet Dibiasky hurtling toward earth more fully represents an attention-deprived culture plagued by lust for fame rocketing toward the brick wall of reality. Presidents would rather be reelected, “news shows” would rather have ratings, tech platforms would rather have power, and scientists would rather be TV personalities than deal with reality. McKay’s satire shows us an entire conglomeration of institutions who refuse to “look up” and see things for how they are.
If “Don’t Look Up” represents even a fraction of the state of things in America and around the world, it’s no wonder people feel a bit crazed, very distrustful, and sharply divided. McKay may be telling us more than he’d like to. That is, it might be a good idea to start seeing things for what they are among “information outlets,” become a lot more selective in what we do take in, and spend a lot more time on what really matters.
When all hope is lost for stopping the comet’s collision with earth, the film warms the audience during a family meal at the Mindy home with the full company of the protagonists in attendance. A sincere and heartfelt prayer of thanks to God is offered.
The film turns to deep despair as the meal is enjoyed in bittersweetness: sweet, because after all the modern answers to a fulfilled life are exhausted and found wanting, solace and contentment are found in family and faith; and bitter because for McKay’s world in “Don’t Look Up,” this simple but profound realization came all too late.