A review of ‘Don’t Look Up’ by Alan Journet. –
In a cast panel discussion, Meryl Streep, who plays doomed President Orlean in Don’t Look Up, argued that “The way to reach people is…with a joke.” To me, the funniest moment was during the closing credits when a naked President Orlean, 22,740 years into the future, is eaten by a brontaroc, a benign-looking ostrich-like creature. The rest is all too real!
The same week I watched “Don’t Look Up” I also watched the OPB program “Earth Emergency” which depicts the positive feedback loops resulting from global warming that collectively depict how close we are to generating a planet that cannot support life as we know it.
Most movies and programs that depict the disaster that climate change is imposing on us give us at least 10 – 15 minutes of encouraging images and words as they close. In contrast, neither of these videos provides a word of encouragement.
After watching Don’t Look Up I had a conversation with a friend who was surprised to learn it was really about climate change. The message I gleaned from that encounter is that maybe the movie is just too subtle and obscure in its allegory. To those of us knowing that Leonardo di Caprio has been a climate activist for many years (recall he was appointed by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon as United Nations representative on climate change) and Meryl Streep has similarly been involved in environmental activism for decades, that this movie is about climate change seems obvious. The public comments of actors, writer and director merely underline this rather obvious artistic purpose.
The movie effectively shows how many politicians and commentators seem almost immune to internalizing the implications of what science and scientists reveal about existential crises facing us, whether climate science or medical science and COVID. Of course, failing to understand and accept scientific warnings about reality results in an inability to respond appropriately. The movie also effectively reveals how the capitalist industrial resource exploiters among us are willing to risk and sacrifice all in the thirst for ever greater profits.
To those who have not been engaged in climate science activism, much in the movie may seem simply and amusingly ‘over the top.’ Unfortunately, for those of us who have been so engaged, the depictions are all too real and reflect all too accurately exactly the obstacles confronting us and diverting us from what we really need to do.
The political rally towards the end, with its hat emblems and chants of “Don’t Look Up!” – even as the visible comet looms in the night sky – were all too realistically reminiscent of the absurd MAGA campaign of the most recent previous U.S. President. Too many of his cult followers, furthermore, remain in Congress to continue the insanity.
Spoiler Alert: Disappointing as the ending may have been for those of us on the side of life and survival (I even found myself rooting for a moment for the absurd plot of the billionaire to blow the comet into pieces as it plunged into our atmosphere), the movie accurately depicts how our lack of sufficient concerted action is leading us towards collective suicide. A last-minute reprieve for life as we know it would not have realistically reflected where we are.
The movie is extremely well written, directed, and acted, and includes expertly produced special effects. It’s listed as a comedy, but don’t expect to walk away with any warm and fuzzy feelings.