Movie Reviews

Clumsy, Relevant Satire | “Don’t Look Up” (2021) Netflix Movie Review

With the pandemic still raging because of obstacles in the way of worldwide vaccine distribution and those who still refuse the vaccine, it doesn’t bode well for our ability to get climate change under control, in which economic gain is still prioritized over the habitability of the planet. 

Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up”, is a satire film in the same vein of “Idiocracy” (2006) for the politically-divided social media age, in which a comet is discovered hurtling towards Earth that will end all life on the planet if it’s not destroyed or if its course is not altered. 

Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers it, so naturally her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), gets all the credit. They are ghosted by President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), who is a thinly-veiled stand-in for President Donald Trump, who refuses to do anything until they leak it to the press, and their own Ivy-league scientists confirm the discovery. Unsurprisingly, the news barely gets noticed, with armchair scientists on social media attempting to poke holes in it, in the same way they’ve been trying to discredit coronavirus vaccines and the pandemic in the real world. But President Orlean at least decides that action must be taken, and a mission to destroy it is successfully launched. 

That is, until tech billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), who is a thinly-veiled standing for Mark Zuckerberg and/or Jeff Bezos, shuts it down. As a top donor to President Orleans, he has a unique sway over her, and convinces her to spare the comet as it contains trillions of dollars of rare-earth minerals. He proposes that he instead leads a mission to break it apart so it can be mined, which relies on technology that isn’t peer-reviewed and his mission is not privy to the same level of scrutiny the government operation was. 

Spoilers: It doesn’t end well for humanity. 

“Don’t Look Up” comes off as a heavy-handed satire that speaks more truth than we should be comfortable with. It portrays a world indifferent to its own destruction, that has been fed so many doomsday tales that haven’t come true that it doesn’t know how to properly react to the real thing until it’s too late. The comet can easily be substituted to the climate crisis, and the film has one clear thesis: Political gridlock, political sideshows, social media and traditional media distractions, as well as the lies of demagogues will get us all killed. 

I found its lack of subtlety to be fine — exaggeration is often necessary in satire both as a method of criticizing its subject matter, and as a means to make known what is being criticized. While it might not be the most well-made satire I’ve ever seen, it certainly has a point, and draws attention to the fact that we should take the larger issues of our age (the pandemic, climate change) more seriously. 

“Don’t Look Up” gets an 8.5/10

Rating: 4 out of 5.

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