Director Adam McKay leads an all-star cast in the disaster-comedy Don’t Look Up that is so absurd, until you realize it really isn’t too far-fetched. Though the movie mostly serves as a representation of the climate crisis, its message ultimately extends to many distressing facets of the world that stem from the human capacity for greed.
The movie centers around two astronomers, Kate Diabiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), trying to help the world understand the urgency of a humanity-destroying comet they discover is headed towards Earth. This extinction-level event quickly becomes politicized with the help of news, social media, and a president that embodies a dangerous crossover between Donald Trump and Sarah Palin, President Orlean (Meryl Streep). News anchors Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchette) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry) complicate the presentation of this comet by “making the news light,” much to the chagrin of Diabiasky. To muddle the already-entangled state of affairs, eerie tech billionaire Peter Ishwell (Mark Rylance) inserts his greedy hand in the mix at the cost of risking humanity’s survival.
Similar to McKay’s other movies, Vice and The Big Short, there is a unique use of comedy to almost “soften the blow” of revealing dark truths that are presented in the film. The ridiculousness of many of the characters and their interactions in Don’t Look Up will certainly have its audience laughing, but the realness of the absurdity will also leave audiences feeling frustrated. Hopefully, that frustration shifts throughout the movie into a renewed sense of action to succeed in saving the planet.
The movie took on a unique editing style, in that it was choppy and broke up the scenes into really irregular sequences. Clips of animals in their natural habits and humans across the world going about their daily lives were sprinkled in between scenes. These served as a reminder of the parts of the world that will be lost if productive action and legislation to save the planet are not made. Similarly, images of dinosaurs and polar bears were added in the background of scenes to warn audiences of their same fate if the climate crisis is not averted.
During its first week of streaming on Netflix after its release on December 25, 2021, it totaled 152 million hours streamed, making it the biggest week of views in Netflix history. Much of the movie’s success can be attributed to its star cast. Very rarely can a combination of Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Timotheé Chalamet, Cate Blanchete, Tyler Perry, Mark Rylance, Rob Morgan, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Ron Perlman and others be in the same project, which explains a lot of the film’s success and publicity. Much of the movie discusses society’s complacency with the distraction of celebrities and Hollywood drama, yet ironically, these A-list celebrities are what have drawn so many to see the new film. That might have been an intelligent choice on Netflix’s part to get more viewers to see this urgent message, or it might have just been an area of hypocrisy; it’s probably a bit of both.
The movie presents a very clear message surrounding the world’s failure to address the climate crisis the way it needs to be handled, but it also manages to tackle issues of political division and greedy capitalism. The movie was written before COVID-19 even emerged, which led to yet another wave of misinformation and distrust of science among some American people, and much of the elements of the pandemic are paralleled in Don't Look Up. This unanticipated but clear parallel serves to prove how poignant the writing of McKay is in representing Americans’ ability to clash with one another over scientific concepts that should have everyone on the same page. Even on the movie’s poster it states “Based On Truly Possible Events,” which, as evidenced by the pandemic, is right on the nose.
Ultimately, the movie is screaming at its audience to more effectively manage the climate crisis in a place of unity, rather than the division that is portrayed in Don’t Look Up, which leads humanity to extinction. If we don’t, greed and egoism will eventually take the upper hand in the extinction of our species.