Movie: Don’t Look Up
Production Company: Hyperobject Industries
Director: Adam McKay
Producers: Adam McKay, Kevin Messick
Scriptwriters: Adam McKay
Main Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance
Release Date: December 24th 2021
Running Time: 138 minutes
How best to introduce Don’t Look Up? Probably by the fact it’s a satire of the US government and media’s response to the climate crisis. The film definitely succeeds thanks to a stellar cast and some well placed satire, yet still divided opinion. Before I get into the Don’t Look Up review, I guess I should say don’t look down if you want to avoid SPOILERS. So, let’s get into my Don’t Look Up movie review.
Don’t Look Up opens with PhD student Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) working at the Subaru Telescope. She then notices an unknown comet outside Jupiter’s orbit. Her professor Dr Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) calculates the comet will hit Earth in 6 months. He works out it will cause a planet wide extinction event. NASA also confirms this. Dibiasky and Mindy, alongside Teddy Oglethorpe (Morgan) head of NASA’s Planetary Defense Coordination Office (Yes, that’s a thing), present their findings to President Janie Orlean (Streep). Unfortunately, they are met with apathy by Orlean and her son Jason (Hill)
The problem with the news
After the meeting, Oglethorpe encourages Mindy and Dibiasky to leak the news to the media in a morning talk show interview. Yet when hosts Jack Bremmer (Perry) and Brie Evantee (Blanchett) brush the topic aside, Dibiasky loses control and rants about the threat. Unfortunately, this leads to Dibiasky being mocked for her meltdown. However, Mindy receives compliments for looking handsome. So, another day in the life of Leonardo DiCaprio there then. As well as the mocking of Dibiasky, the comet’s threat receives little attention. It also gets denounced by the President’s director of NASA. That is until news of an affair between Orlean and her Supreme Court nominee surfaces. She then diverts attention to the comet. Orlean promises to destroy and divert the comet with nuclear weapons.
The emergence of Isherwell and BASH
Just as things are looking up (literally) for Dibiasky and Mindy with a mission launch, Orlean cancels it. This is because billionaire tech CEO Peter Isherwell (Rylance) discovers potentially valuable elements in the comet. Eager to gain the elements, the White House agrees to fragment and recover the comet from the ocean. They also agree to use Isherwell’s company BASH’s technology. The equipment hasn’t undergone any form of peer review. The White House hires Mindy as National Science Advisor. This sidelines Oglethorpe and Dibiasky. Whilst Dibiasky tries to mobilize opposition, she backs down after threats from the White House. Mindy then becomes an advocate for jobs created by the comet. He also starts an affair with Evantee.
What to do about the comet?
During all this, world opinion is split into three groups: those who want the comet destroyed, those who back the commercial opportunities and those who deny the comet’s existence. Seemingly defeated, Dibiasky returns home and begins a relationship with Yule (Chalamet) Yule is a shoplifter at the retail store where Dibiasky works. Finally, Mindy’s wife confronts him about his affair and returns home without him. Following this, Mindy rants on live TV criticising Orlean for downplaying the apocalypse and he questions humanity’s indifference.
After being cut off by Orlean’s administration, Mindy reconciles with Dibiasky as the comet becomes visible from Earth. Together with Oglethorpe, they begin a campaign against Orlean and Isherwell. They encourage people to ‘Just Look Up’. They also call on other countries to prepare comet interception missions. This call is answered by India, China and Russia who were cut out of the comet mining deal. Tragically, an explosion destroys the country’s spacecraft before it can launch, devastating Mindy.
The fate of the Elite and the rest of humanity
Orlean, Isherwell and the rest of her inner circle decide to escape the Earth in a sleeper spacecraft to find an Earth-like planet. However, Orlean inadvertently leaves Jason behind as well as offering Mindy two seats on the spacecraft. He declines, wanting to spend his final day with his family, Oglethorpe, Dibiasky and Yule. As expected the comet hits Earth triggering the extinction event, killing all life on Earth.
Mid/After Credits Scenes
Then during the mid credits scene, the survivors land on an alien planet 22,000 years later. Whilst admiring the planet’s lush scenery, Orlean is killed by a bird like creature despite Isherwell’s warning. The end credits scene then sees Jason crawling out from the rubble, calling out for his mother and trying to use social media.
Satirizing the Trump Administration
To start my analysis of Don’t Look Up, I’m talking about the film’s satire and why it doesn’t work at points. Don’t Look Up is satirizing government responses to the climate crisis. I wonder which former president? Because McKay couldn’t be satirising the Trump administration. So, what’s the problem? Well, you can’t really satirize something that satirizes itself. As funny and relevant a lot of the jokes are, they often lack impact because what more is there to say about the Trump administration? Whether it was the incomprehensible press conferences, contesting an already won election or his backwards comments on climate change, every joke about Trump has already been made.
Even if McKay is satirizing other government responses, like the UK, some jokes would still lack impact as UK politics recently has become a parody of itself. The endless stream of leaks and stories about the ‘response’ to the climate crisis prove that it is really difficult to satirize modern politics. The best example of this is Don’t Look Up? No, not the presidential affair joke clearly aimed at Trump’s affair with Stormy Daniels but the actual response. Trump and Boris Johnson are both known to flip flop between statements and plans so would you be surprised if they ignored the end of the world?
The media in Don’t Look Up
The next part of my Don’t Look Up analysis is how it portrays the media and the power it holds over society. Despite Don’t Look Up being well received by viewers, it mysteriously struggled to win over the media. Why would that be the case? Could it be that it shows how the media manipulates and ignores climate change? Maybe but back on topic. In Don’t Look Up, the media are often presented as clueless. This is especially true during the talk show interview at the start of the film.
Despite the fact that Dibiasky and Mindy are talking about a comet that could end life on Earth, hosts Evantee and Bremmer think they’ve discovered a planet. Bremmer even plays off the threat by asking if it could hit his ex’s house. This point just reinforces the overall point of society’s non reaction to the climate crisis. Also, back the media and its portrayal of the climate crisis. As after that interview, the newspapers bin the story. Why? The story didn’t get that much interest, the media actively chose to ignore the comet until news of President Orlean’s affair. McKay is clearly implying, if not stating, how the media will ignore climate change until it suits their agenda to talk about it.
Reviewers vs Viewers
Furthermore, the final part of my Don’t Look Up analysis is a point I’ve briefly touched on: the difference in reaction between reviewers and viewers. While most reviews, especially from the scientific community, have been positive there are an abundance of 2 and 3 out of 5’s. Again, I wonder why that could be? It couldn’t be because the film negatively portrays the media and their apathy towards climate change, right? Yes, I’ve made that joke before but it does raise a good point about a lack of coverage of a very real danger that could escalate in a few years.
Despite the negative reviews, Don’t Look Up receives praise from viewers and as mentioned above by parts of the scientific community. This divide seemingly shows two different attitudes which McKay shows in the film. The first is the scientific community whilst the second is the majority of society. This divide in the film now seems to mirror reality as in real life people keep trying to speak up about the dangers of climate change whilst the media largely ignores their efforts. Funny how art can imitate life isn’t it?
To summarise Don’t Look Up, a great film which raises awareness of differing reactions to the climate crisis and mostly satirises the failures of certain governments and the media to highlight the crisis.
Overall Rating: 8/10 – Very Good
Target Audience: 15+
Content Warning: Strong bad language, moderate sexual references, mild alcohol and drugs references