Some people I know are calling Don’t Look Up brilliant and must-see filmmaking. Others are more critical, pointing out the movie is smug and heavy-handed. Such divergence of opinion generally gets me interested and I sat down recently to watch Don’t Look Up.
The premise: scientists discover a comet hurtling toward the earth, with impact expected in six months, and the result to be human extinction. Good premise, right? The story question that must be answered is: What does humanity do about it?
The film has been called an allegory for climate change, but as the writer and critic Kate Cohen pointed out, “climate change isn’t a comet speeding towards earth.” Climate change is gradual (until it isn’t) and therefore isn’t urgent (until it is), thus allowing misguided, shortsighted humans to kick the can down the road and let future generations deal with the problem because we have money to make and cars to buy and planes to fly. So the climate change allegory doesn’t work because there are only six months to solve the problem.
The film title comes from a refrain repeated by science deniers who don’t believe the comet even exists, which will make problem-solving more difficult. They gather for rallies and refuse to look up in the sky to see the comet approaching. The symbolism is too familiar (Trump sycophants, MAGA, vaccine/election protesters), which reinforces the critique about heavy-handedness.
Hollywood types must be all-in because the film is populated with an all-star cast: Jennifer Lawrence as an astronomy student who discovers the comet, Leonardo DiCaprio as her awkward professor turned media darling. Cate Blanchett as the vapid talk show co-host whose frivolity minimizes the direness of the situation and who has an affair with DiCaprio’s professor character. Meryl Streep as the cringeworthy POTUS who ignores the reality of the comet until it becomes politically useful to her as an attention deflector when her sex scandal with her hand-picked Supreme Court nominee becomes public. Jonah Hill as her chip-off-the-block son and chief of staff. Just writing this quick summary of the characters makes me feel yucky—as did the film itself in many ways.
Is the movie entertaining enough? I suppose. I sat through its too-long two-and-one-half hours run time, occasionally laughing (mostly smirking) but also feeling a bit ashamed that the movie reflects the state of our country today: denying or ignoring science, corporations in charge, and the news media as an entertainment business.
I won’t call Don’t Look Up must-see, but neither would I dissuade anyone from seeing it. But be warned: its message is about as subtle as getting hit in the head with a rock, and so don’t expect to feel good after watching the film.