If there ever was a movie to define our nation’s current affairs, Netflix’s new satirical examination of a divided country on the brink of Armageddon is that movie.
A lot has been said or written about Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” since it’s release on Christmas Eve, and it seems that most reviewers fall into to two factions. They either love it, or, they hate it.
Quite honestly, the act of announcing one’s ideology for one camp over the other is exactly the point the movie is making.
Or, at least, one of the points.
First things first. Let’s get the synopsis out of the way, so we can get on with it, shall we?
Starring Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Minday and Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky, two astronomers who discover a new asteroid in the solar system. After initially celebrating the find, the pair soon realize with horror that the asteroid is destined to collide with earth in just over six months.
The pair soon find themselves fighting an uphill battle (and that’s putting it mildly) against the powers at be to do something, anything, please–something!
Quickly, DiCaprio’s character becomes the “sexy” scientist, labeled “A.I.L.F.” by the media – an acronym I’ll let the readers figure out for themselves, while Lawrence’s character is shunned for her emotional response to impending doom.
In short, DiCaprio’s Dr. Mindy sells himself out, seduced (literally) by the fame of it all, and Lawrence’s Dibiasky is sidelined in the process.
There’s a President, played pitch perfectly by Meryl Streep, who is only interested in doing what is absolutely necessary in the short-term to earn political points, and for her, at first, the best thing is to do nothing – or, rather, “Sit tight and assess.”
The president’s chief of staff, which so happens to be her son (played by the only person who could play this role, Jonah Hill), is not much better and, in fact, is actually much worse than his President Mother.
In one particularly funny gag early on, a general brings the scientists waiting to see the president some snacks, and then proceeds to charge them. Later, Lawrence’s character discovers that all of the snacks at the White House are free.
Lawrence will spend the rest of the movie wondering why on earth this celebrated general would charge them for snacks he knew were free.
Without giving too much more away, the basic conceit of this film is to understand that this is all satire, which is to say that the movie itself has a lot to say under the banner of political and sociological critiques. The problem most reviewers who fall into the camp of hating “Don’t Look Up” have, is that the film says what it wants to say rather loudly, instead of inferring or suggesting.
Some viewers have stated that the movie screams at us how stupid we all have become, how we are all so devoid of caring for anything other than what’s directly in front of us, on our screens.
But, let’s give McKay a little more credit than that, shall we?
The director of “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “Step brothers,” and most recently, “The Big Short” and “Vice,” excels in the world of satire. His most successful attempt to date was with 2015’s “The Big Short,”, which explored the collapse of the U.S. market from the inside out with cutting tongue, earning McKay an Oscar for Best Adapted Screenplay in the process.
Here, McKay isn’t just giving it to us straight, though. While the movie does speak loudly on many fronts, it’s the stuff that happens in the in-between that’s truly remarkable.
I’ve neglected to tell you about the performances, or the quality of the cinematography, or how the hyper-active editing style either takes away or adds to the overall impact the film has on its viewers. But that’s okay. That’s by design. The most important takeaway isn’t that, bur rather, the value of the message(s) itself.
When watching “Don’t Look Up” (either in a repeat viewing or for the first time), try to “listen” to the visual language the film employs to further its message. While, yes, it is a statement on the climate crisis, and more recently, the response to the COVID-19 pandemic – it is also an examination of our promise being squandered by the powers-at-be. Yes, it’s angry (Let me be clear, if someone told me Bernie Sanders wrote the screenplay, I’d believe it). Yes, it’s loud. And vengeful. But through it all, “Don’t Look Up” also offers a little hope, believe it or not. It challenges us to challenge the status quo, because in the end, looking up to the stars and asking the important questions ourselves is what’s going to save us from ourselves.