Don’t Look: A Failed Movie, a Successful Climate Change Metaphor

Don't Look: A Failed Movie, a Successful Climate Change Metaphor

It’s the end of the movie: our heroes, who we’ve been introduced to over the course of two hours, are seated together at the table. They express their thanks that the inevitable apocalypse comes literally through the walls. “I’m grateful we tried,” Kate DiBiaski (Jennifer Lawrence) told the group. A few minutes later, all of humanity died.

I’m glad we tried that. The algebraic sentence played by director Adam McKay sums up Don’t Look Up Well. The story in a nutshell: Kate DiBasky discovers a comet that is headed straight to Earth and wipes out all life. She and her boss Randall Mendy (Leonardo DiCaprio) try to persuade a Trump-style President of the United States (Meryl Streep) to take action. Ultimately, this leads to a billionaire’s plan with a tech company to blow up the comet and bring the smaller pieces to Earth to harvest valuable resources in the space rock for money.

A metaphor for the climate crisis

The film is clearly a metaphor for the current climate crisis. Primarily because of the apathy of those in power, who are constantly portrayed in this movie as disinterested, inept, money-hungry, and wildly stupid. A well-known echo of the last years in the White House. But also by two astronomers, along with Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office, trying to convince the world that quick action is needed. The world reacts divided, between those who say “just look” and see the comet brighter and brighter in the sky. and the group that says “don’t look up” and denies the presence of a comet approaching.

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They look familiar. But as is so often the case with Adam McKay’s films (of The Big Short and Vice fame), the political message is drowned out in a mixture of a lot of plot and a lot of action. McKay loves to pee about all the trouble. The film can be read as easily as a critique of pandemic politics, or the countless other problems plaguing the world today.

We will all die

The plot and the script are too confusing to really capture. Comedy, drama and the end of the world at the same time. The director also limps on different legs all the time on his way to filming. What remains is the movie’s message: it will end badly if we do nothing. At one point in the movie, Kate DiBaseki broke down when she yelled “We’re all going to die” during a popular talk show. DiCaprio does the exact same thing later in the movie. We’ve got it. McKay’s frustration with world leaders and inaction on existential crises is clear and understandable. And the movie strikes a chord: According to Netflix (it’s always fuzzy about viewership numbers), the movie is the third most successful movie of all time on the streaming platform.

But agreeing with the political message does not mean that the film is good. The final half hour, as Lawrence soon develops a love affair with new Hollywood golden boy Timothée Chalamet (Yul in the movie), is the strongest. It’s also the part where McKay’s activity fades into the background and the movie’s sound is lower.

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I thought for a moment: What if the crazy plan of tech entrepreneur (Mark Rylance) worked, and the comet disappeared. This would deliver an interesting message: Big companies offer a solution in the end, but the risks associated with it have been irresponsible. It would give the movie a more surprising and mysterious ending, as it was still clear that techbro and Meryl Streep were wrong, but thankfully they succeeded. Because in the end, the lucky and weak elite is more realistic than the end of humanity.

Mark Sigelhauer is an editor at Change Inc.

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