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Pessimism Unleashed in ‘Don’t Look Up’

Don’t Look Up, directed by Adam McKay, took Netflix by storm after its release in December. It is quickly becoming one of the streaming site’s most watched movies ever.


Don’t Look Up, directed by Adam McKay, took Netflix by storm after its release in December. It is quickly becoming one of the streaming site’s most watched movies ever. The film features a remarkably star-studded cast: Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio star in the film, with Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, and Ariana Grande making notable appearances. The movie explores relevant issues such as climate change, unreliable media, and political corruption by parodying events from the last few years, but is notably one sided. Instead of making progress in the name of these issues, Don’t Look Up fosters anger and self righteousness among its clearly intended liberal audience.

In the film, Lawrence plays Kate Dibiasky, a sarcastic and outspoken college student, while DiCaprio is an anxious astronomy professor named Dr. Mindy. After discovering a comet destined for Earth that will lead to world destruction upon impact, the duo desperately tries to get any sort of attention from the government, the press, and the public in order to save the planet. 

It is quickly evident that the comet is a metaphor for climate change. Most of the film depicts a frustrating sequence of events in which the scientists are ignored by the public, the media refuses to publish anything remotely truthful, and America refuses to accept reality and take action.

While it is understandable that the film aims to criticize the way that the American government and culture have handled the threat of climate change, the message is unlikely to inspire any positive change. The film was a clear expression of McKay’s frustration with anyone who doesn’t share his political viewpoint, making it an unproductive social mockery rather than a call to action. The movie comes across as smug and oversimplified, and the metaphor becomes dull as the film goes on.

The characters in the story are also remarkably one-dimensional. If the film is actually supposed to serve as a reflection of real-life American politics, the story fails to explore any kind of nuance or complexities within the issue. The main characters are portrayed as the good guys who are the only ones trying to save the world. There is no reasoning as to why the public is so ignorant, which does a disservice to the actual multifaceted issue of climate change and misinformation in American politics. The comparison between taking action against climate change and “looking up” into the sky to see a comet coming towards Earth is a stretch, even for a satirical film.

In the end, the talent of the actors pulled the movie together. Watching Meryl Streep portray a corrupt Madame President and Jonah Hill play her chief of staff son made for a comical dynamic, although it was a painful reference to what the real presidential office has looked like for the past few years. Many of the references to modern day American culture — especially the impact of social media — were also spot on.

It is evident that Netflix had a large budget for this film, which visually pays off in regards to the special effects. However, it is disappointing that the message behind the movie isn’t more productive. Don’t Look Up had serious potential for progress in the fight against climate change because of the large audience that watched it solely for the all-star cast. Hopefully, the next film of this caliber can inspire unity and change.