Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up ★★★★

Don’t Look Up was written and directed by Adam McKay, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as two astronomers who discover an approaching comet that will destroy the Earth in six months. But when they try to warn humanity of the crisis, they find unexpected – or perhaps too expected – resistance from many media and political figures, who either don’t believe them or try to exploit the subsequent discoveries for their own gain.

I’ve seen many say that they couldn’t enjoy Don’t Look Up because of how dour it is, especially during these times. It’s very clear what Don’t Look Up is commenting on, and Adam McKay minces no words with what he thinks about so much that’s wrong with humanity (and some people consider that a flaw of the movie for some reason). Because of that, this was one of the most therapeutic films to watch I’ve seen in a while. My biggest concern ahead of time was that I wouldn’t be able to buy so many characters being so indifferent to a proven, life-ending comet approaching. Yes, even considering our own reality. But the film smartly has the issue not so much be a lack of concern for the event, but a lack of belief in the event and suppressed means of even learning the truth in the first place.

In the eyes of the politicians and businesspeople, no action is needed unless the danger is totally certain. And it, to a degree, makes some deal of sense to be skeptical, given how many lunatics have made similarly dire claims that ended up being nothing but hot air. Of course, actually spending more than ten seconds reading into the details of what’s presented to you usually makes it easy to tell what’s likely worth paying attention to. But that doesn’t matter. These scientists don’t have definitive proof that this comet is a threat. But you know what is definitively proven as real? The political campaigns and battles of characters like the U.S. President (Meryl Streep) and a tech conglomerate CEO (Mark Rylance). And of course, that’s what the selfish, immediately-gratifying nature of such scum veers towards when the communication on behalf of our leads has one little reason to not be taken seriously. Especially when those who deliver the truth don’t deliver it in quite the right way, leading everyone to write them off.

But then, when objective proof is presented, Don’t Look Up has clever ways of satirically showing how even that can be spun and how the population can even fuck that up. You can tell that those who are rich and powerful are so confident in their privileged inabilities to fail that they, subconsciously or otherwise, block out the probabilities of success vs. failure staring them in the face. That’s the key distinction there: probabilities, not facts. Some riskier plan to deal with the comet in a more profitable way could work. In some civilians’ eyes, the comet might not even be real. As long as there’s some potential out in any little crevice of people’s minds, that out will be exploited and manipulated, either willingly by those who do know better or by unwitting pawns who lack any basic common sense. And usually, all that’s left in such a situation is for the sane individuals to either keep fighting back or simply say “Fuck it,” and try to find their own peace while the world, in this case literally, blows up around them.

This all applies whether you look at Don’t Look Up as an allegory for climate change, the rise and domination of COVID, or anything else throughout history. Believe it or not, the COVID comparison is what jumps to me most immediately, considering its much more sudden and visible nature compared to the more gradual (but no less real) threat of climate change. That, and the fact that I’m still not allowed to see my hospitalized mother on Christmas because of the new variant, a variant that wouldn’t have even existed had some wastes of skin and oxygen just acted responsibly or taken the fucking vaccine.

… Anyway …

I love the tight, constrained look of the film that allows for minimal comfort and constant close-ups to the anxiety of the characters. The film is also sometimes paced more slowly than you’d expect considering the situation, something I’m sure was very deliberate to get the most maddened response out of a viewer begging for everyone to act faster. Don’t Look Up really does get under your skin, in a way that I think would have been less effective had it tried to go the less “heavy-handed” route. DiCaprio and Lawrence give great performances as expected, as do the rest of the cast. The film is filled with a lot of caricatures, occasionally to a fault but usually in a way that serves the blunt approach. I thought that Ariana Grande would be a gimmicky casting choice, but she ends up with one of the best and funniest scenes in the movie, a scene that reflects the film’s atmosphere of eschewing all pretense and openly screaming for sanity.

Am I biased towards Don’t Look Up because of my absolute disgust for so much of the world right now? Maybe. Looking at the film from a distance, there are a few editing choices that are just plain distracting, mainly various cuts to random footage that last about a second. The characters and their decisions are occasionally simplified for the sake of moving the story forward, and I’m not sure McKay is quite seasoned enough with this kind of blacker humor to get the kind of searing bite that something like Dr. Strangelove, a film often compared to this, provides.

But Don’t Look Up is still a really good movie with an upfront urgency the likes of which I don’t see too often. For many, this film will be too real to enjoy. For others, it’ll be too “preachy” or something. But for people like me, it’s both an acknowledgement of the dangerous, frightening lunacy that surrounds us, and a strange comfort that there are at least some out there who recognize it and are begging for help.

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