People are no longer fazed by threats of the world ending. We cannot afford that luxury. If the whole world came to a halt every time society was on the brink of destruction or mass death seemed imminent, nothing would get done. “Don’t Look Up,” a political satire released on Netflix in December, understands how we have all grown complacent regarding the long list of tragedies and disasters unfolding in the world. This movie wants to remind its audience, in clear memorable terms, that if the Earth dies, literally nothing else matters.
“Don’t Look Up” follows two scientists (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) on their six-month quest to save the Earth from a comet. What should have been a straightforward but urgent matter of collaboration between the scientific community and major world governments turned into a mess of collusion, misinformation, scientific distrust and partisan politics. This all too real story of a government failing its people perfectly captures how problems of the utmost importance, such as climate change, are handled in America, while also creating a group of down-to-Earth developed characters with great comedic timing.
Purpose-driven films rarely succeed in both hammering home the moral they are built around and producing a quality movie. “Don’t Look Up” does. But there is no consensus around that conclusion. Critics are divided, and it’s easy to see why. This movie is terrifying. It’s steeped in Juvenalian satire, in the tradition of “1984,” except there aren’t 70 years between viewers and the political commentary. “Don’t Look Up” isn’t trying to be subtle, or jovial or idealistic. It screams in the face of its audience the world is dying and the steps we’re taking aren’t working, aren’t enough. That’s not funny. It makes sense that audiences are disturbed by seeing their reality under such a harsh lens. And political satire in itself is not exactly universally beloved. If the likes of “Veep” or “Yes Minister,” far sillier and more detached examples of political satire, do not fall into the spectrum of your sense of humor, this movie surely will not.
“Don’t Look Up” could not work without its stellar cast. The majority of this movie is made up of A-list actors playing primarily off-brand roles. Meryl Streep is an obnoxious corrupt politician, Leonardo DiCaprio is a mild-mannered nerd, Timothee Chalamet is an almost unattractive 20-something vagabond. The movie defies typecasting and yet the performances are incredible. Which allows every central character to undergo a realistic and satisfying character arc.
It seems hard to believe in a movie that competently presents the possible political and social ramifications of an impending natural disaster that individual characters and their personal journeys would feel so central to the story. Things get crazy when the world seems like it is ending and the only way that phenomenon will translate to an audience is through real human situations. Characters commit adultery, betray one another and get married on a whim, but also have shallow conversations about spirituality and complain about insignificant frustrations. These small occurrences, while not having any impact on the larger matter at hand, made this movie enjoyable and added tenfold to the realism “Don’t Look Up” relied on. Of course social media would care more about a celebrity couple breaking up than a comet that will not affect them for six whole months. A Republican presidential candidate going up in the polls because they do not hide that they smoke cigarettes makes perfect sense. Humans are hard to get right, but if you wanna intrigue people while terrifying them with how awful the world is, characters individually and in group settings need to parallel life. This movie got humans right time and time again.
“Don’t Look Up” was an impressive display of clever dialogue, expansive characters and relevant cutting political commentary. It felt true to life and emotional beats hit hard, whether they were related to the end of all life on Earth or the strangely beautiful relationship between Jennifer Lawrence and Timothee Chalamet’s characters. It is not unreasonable to react to this movie with aversion. Sometimes we need a break from reminders that the world is screwed and it is all our fault. While this movie is funny throughout it is not exactly a popcorn movie. But if you are feeling up to a well-made analysis of the hellscape we call home, give this movie a try.