Don’t Look Up: Netflix’s new satire mocks society’s ever-growing ignorance

Hannah Holycross ‘22, Opinion Editor’

A large object from space heading to end human kind is a fear that many might hold if they think about the fact we are on a floating rock in the universe long enough for it to happen. Memories of 2012 flood back, a time when everyone was convinced that a meteor was going to decimate earth based on a prediction from a Mayan calendar. Hollywood has taken advantage of this fear, producing various movies and television shows to profit off the odd fascination that humanity has with the apocalypse. Many of these productions hold the purpose of creating a thrill that will draw viewers in, but Netflix’s latest film, Don’t Look Up, holds a deeper purpose than most of its sci-fi counterparts. 

Written by Adam McKay, this satirical comedy focuses on two low-level astronomers who embark on a large media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth. In the beginning, Michigan State PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) along with her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) makes a groundbreaking discovery of a comet that is on a collision course straight towards earth. The comet is 100 percent going to wipe out mankind, yet no one seems to care. A plan is proposed and almost enacted that will successfully change the path of the comet, but it is quickly repealed when an entrepreneurial billionaire discovers that there are valuable minerals in the comet and convinces the President to follow his plan of blowing the comet into smaller pieces so the minerals can be collected and used to make the U.S. richer than its competitors—Russia and China.

The greedy undertones of those in power and the skeptical nature of the public in the film mirror our world today. The rampant spread of false information and outrage which grew due to fear throughout the film is similar to the reaction the world has had to recent events such as climate change and COVID-19. While some have speculated that the film is an allegory for COVID, it was confirmed by the director that it is in fact an allegory for the ever-growing climate crisis. The movie was written in November 2019, long before the pandemic, but its message of ‘trust the science’ rings true for both of these prevalent issues.  

 With a cast that includes big names like DiCaprio, Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Timothee Chalamet, and Ariana Grande, it is no surprise that the film quickly gained popularity. Receiving a 7.3/10 rating on IMDb, the general consensus among critics is that the film is nothing but mediocre. A top user review on the website said, “I found this [film] to be a brilliant satire about the state of growing misinformation and the dangerous hypocrisies of this digital age,” while another said, “It is chock full of unpleasant characters and unpleasant situations, and viewers need to go-into-it all with a coarse grain of salt.”

DiCaprio is a known climate change activist, making him a perfect fit for the movie. In one of the scenes, the beloved astronomer himself is once again being interviewed on the talk show The Daily Rip, but this time he cannot keep his cool. No longer can he stand being ignored or hearing the light-hearted jokes about the impending doom of the comet, and he breaks down, yelling a powerful speech at the viewers. It almost seems like DiCaprio’s own anger at the world was shown through in this scene, with Mindy’s own passion about the comet mirroring DiCaprio’s passion about the environment. In an interview, DiCaprio said, “It’s in a lot of ways, you know, brings a mirror to our entire culture and how we deal with bad news. And whether, you know, us as a species can evolve to truly focus on what is ultimately the most important issue that’s ever faced humanity in the history of civilization.” 

The ending of the film is what truly drives home the message of the dangers of not listening to science. Society ignored Mindy and Dibiasky’s warning and did not care until it was too late. The film ends with the comet blowing earth into pieces, killing mankind while the rich and the powerful escape on a rocket after their failed plan to profit off the planet-killer. The ending is haunting and disturbing, leaving audiences shocked. In an interview with the Los Angeles Times, screenplay writer Adam McKay said that he intended for everything to not pan out in the film: “We’ve seen hundreds of movies where the world is about to end, whether it’s Marvel movies or James Bond or the 70s disaster movies, and it always works out. I think it’s not crazy to say that maybe that’s part of the reason we’re not taking the collapse of the livable atmosphere seriously.” The nightmarish ending to this satirical film is a wake up call for society. It is the hard truth needed to spur much needed action. 

McKay’s use of satire to bring awareness is absolutely brilliant. The mocking of ignorance and greed sheds light on what is valued in our world today and how we must change that in order to save our planet. Dibiasky said it herself: “The end of the world isn’t supposed to be fun,” and we must realize our own flaws in order to start a critical journey towards sustainability before it is too late.

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