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Don’t Look Up

  • 31 Mar 2022

We really did have everything, didn't we?

Don’t Look Up was released in theatres on 5th December, 2021 and has been on Netflix since 24th December, 2021. This 2 hour 24 minute movie has a cast that all future productions are bound to envy. This movie is another example of an ignorant fearful crowd who believes that someone will swoop in to save us all.

Have you also noticed that every natural catastrophe seems to occur when scientists are ignored?

In the movie ‘Interstellar’, the director showcased Earth as uninhabitable - the reason was portrayed to be worsening climatic conditions. The crops are wiped out due to a blight that destroyed all of them. Moreover, no animals or fishes are seen in the entirety of the movie.

There seemed to be sand storms every day which shouldn’t be a frequent occurrence. It caused lung problems and health issues (as shown while Bill’s son is coughing). They were looking for an alternative to survive on Earth as things only seemed to be getting worse, year by year. There was a huge possibility that the next generation would be the last to live on planet Earth. This dark, gloomy tone should’ve been what you expected from Don’t Look Up, at first glance, but Adam McKay had something different in mind.

Don’t Look Up (IMDb: 7.3/10) seems to be a parody that highlights the issue of possible extinction of life on earth and why it is being ignored by thousands of people around the world, despite world-renowned scientists being adamant about action being taken soon. It has underlying, central themes of capitalism, exploitation by the rich, the dependency of people on the social hierarchy, the media in today’s time and the hysterical outlook of the people on life-and-death matters.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play the roles of two scientists who discovered a huge comet that is going to hit Earth in approximately 6 months 14 days. They try to warn the media and the people around them but everyone brushes it off until it is too late. It is a satire that shows how we all tend to react when the situation placed in front of us is uncomfortable, scary and life-threatening.

The comet is a metaphor for climate change and while we cannot do anything about a natural catastrophe on an individual level (except raise awareness), we can combat climate change.

Theme 1 - Scientific denial unless everyone is 100% sure!

Scientific denial is recognised by psychologists all around the world. “Don’t Look Up” has an accurate portrayal of how it works among the people.

When President Orlean (Meryl Streep) is informed of the comet, her first words are to ask for the certainty of the event. To which Dr. Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) replies saying that the event has 99.78% certitude. The President’s chief of staff, Jason Orlean (played by Jonah Hill) seems to take this as a joke’s punchline and says: “Oh great! So it’s not a 100%!”

The viewers notice that 99.78% is in fact rounded off to 100% yet the chief does not seem to believe that the comet is real and coming. To Jason’s, the Government scientist (head of the Planetary Defence Coordination Office), Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (played by Rob Morgan) says that scientists never like to say 100%.

Scientists are extremely reluctant to say that they are 100% sure because even though the evidence points to a certain catastrophe, they keep researching and exploring in different directions to open new doors. At the same time, they recognise the inevitability of certain disasters - in this case, the comet, a metaphor for climate change.

When politicians and the upper-class take a “let’s wait and see” or “sit tight and assess” (as seen in the movie) attitude while suggesting that they need more evidence, it is a major form of scientific denial.

Theme 2 - Don’t trust the technology industry’s demos!

Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance’s character) was the head of a tech company called BASH. His eccentric love for technology and ‘developing the world’ with his own underlying purpose of making himself richer, is masked with the aura of enlightenment. The character comes across as a know-it-all and believes that he has the power to save the world from destruction.

His first appearance in the movie was when he gave a presentation on a new smartphone launched by BASH. This software could read people’s emotions and show them exactly what they need at that moment. This smartphone, later, ends up buying music albums without the permission or involvement of the owner of the phone (one of DiCaprio’s sons). Isn’t that slightly scary?

During the presentation, we see how he ignores the little girl who wanted to say something. Moreover, after it got over, she wanted to say that she admired him and instead got faced with rejection. Isherwell seemed to be more absorbed in fixing a minor detail of the presentation, instead.

Another iconic Peter Isherwell moment is when he displays the hologram model that was supposed to save the world from the comet, in the presence of the President and her retinue. The presentation is impeccable with esteemed scientists backing it up. But he fails to say that it was the best case scenario and the demo was rigged to make the process seem smooth and flawless.

Moreover, the issue of peer-review arises which might seem small but is, in fact, very important in the scientific world. Peer-review helps smooth out small bumps that the scientist in charge might have overlooked.

The third Isherwell moment was when the asteroid dismantling robots failed to blast the comet and he excused himself to go to the powder room. He avoided the consequences of his actions without a morse of guilt. We can see this when the President and Isherwell set out to colonise another planet in a spacecraft.

Although the technology industry is advancing every minute, we might be headed straight to our destruction, believing that there in fact lies our salvation.

Theme 3 - Superheroes will come to save us all, right?

In this movie, people flat-out refuse the statistics and data showcased by the scientists, all around the world, about the planet-killing comet that is hurtling towards them. They believe that everything will be alright, again. Someone will come to save the day.

The Avengers beat Thanos. The Transformers defeat the Cybertron invasion. Wonder Woman succeeds in saving the world. Captain Marvel owns her powers and zooms through space. The audience always claps and leaves the theatre, reassured that they are all safe and sound - that someone will always come to save the day.

This is exactly what Adam McKay, the director of Don’t Look Up, wanted to avoid. And, he seemed to do a pretty good job at it.

“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,” McKay told The Times, “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. Elon Musk was asked about climate change and basically said, ‘I know that technology will take care of it.’ That sounds like someone who’s seen a lot of movies where you know that in the third act it’s going to work out. … For people to see a movie that ends where people don’t work to get the happy ending — hopefully, some people will have a reaction to that.”

He, instead, took the route of reality by showing us what we truly believe - the rich will save the planet…right? In the post credits scene, we see that a handful of privileged people land on a new planet, thinking it to be liveable but instead get eaten by dinosaur-like creatures. The end isn’t beautiful for any of us.

The path that we take to believe in an outcome that we find preferable instead of confronting reality is called motivated reasoning.

For example, we like to believe that carbon capture will save the world from extinction at the hands of climate change but the truth is that researchers believe that the evidence will not come through fast enough.

The truth is that climate change is happening and we need to start altering the way we live, eat and work instead of hoping for a technological solution.

Theme 4 - The media knows what is important!

Dr. Oglethorpe encourages the two low scientists to go on The Daily Rip show with Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry), where they “keep the bad news - light”.

Unfortunately, right before they go on, two famous stars get engaged on-air - Riyel Bina (Ariana Grande) and DJ Chello (Scott Mescudi). The media focuses on their engagement rather than the earth-shattering news of the comet. This sends Kate Dibiasky into a maddening rage and she screams at the audience, having a nervous meltdown. This turns her into a viral social media meme source. However, the majority of the media focuses on issues that aren’t important and are trivial compared to the bigger issues of mankind.

Theme 5 - Sloppiness of political leaders and cover-ups!

A Donald Trump stand-in, President Janie Orlean is shown to be in the middle of a Supreme Court elective mishap. She couldn’t care less about the destruction of the planet with the elections looming above her head.

When the comet was brought to her notice by Dr Oglethorpe, Dr Mindy and Kate Dibiasky, she brushed it off and joked about the issue. The narcissistic and hilariously idiotic president responds to the disaster with the words - “Let’s sit tight and assess.”

However, when her election seems to be endangered by a sex scandal she seemed to be involved in, her ‘assess’ attitude disappeared and she decided to let the people know what they were doing to handle the situation, hoping this would get her re-elected. President Orlean shifted the attention to the comet and launched a mission to save the planet from imminent disaster.

But the attention sway is short-lived as the head of BASH, the large-scale tech company, finds out that the comet might contain trillions of dollars’ worth of rare minerals. Since he is a top donor to Orlean, she aborted the mission after launch and let BASH take the reins of destroying the comet. This can clearly be counted as reckless behaviour on the President’s part. It shows how the political world has been infiltrated with money and donors.

When the comet was brought to media attention by Dr Mindy and Kate Dibiasky, President Orlean started a politically charged campaign called “Don’t Look Up!” to tell the public to ignore the life-destroying comet (climate change).

When BASH’s attempt to break apart the comet fails, they have a backup plan. The rich upper class flee to a spacecraft, taking them to another planet in hyper-sleep. President Orlean, though, accidentally leaves her son behind.

When the spaceship finds another habitable, Earth-like planet after 22,740 years, the passengers on the spaceship wake up. Orlean is eaten up by a dinosaur-like creature and the movie fades out. There isn’t much of a future for us out there, after all!

Theme 6 - The urge to fit in!

The movie “Don’t Look Up” was shot in the midst of Covid-19. And one of the most skillfully crafted central themes in the movie is the need to follow what everyone around you is following.

Our society is politically polarised and the social hierarchy is haphazardly drawn across all the classes. One of the examples in Don’t Look Up is Yule, a young shoplifter (played by Timothée Chalamet). Although his appearance is completely unnecessary, it does show his need to fit into the social norms. Even though he is a shoplifter, he is portrayed as a character who believes in God or a higher upper power. He is shown leading everyone into prayer right before disaster strikes the planet down and they all are swallowed by the forces of the earth.

This is seen in real life when high, powerful political leaders discourage their people from getting vaccinated against coronavirus. Although this pandemic has taken the lives of millions, certain sections of people refuse to take the vaccine despite its efficacy. They do this to fit into the social strata of following a particular party, political or otherwise.This blind devotion may cost a million lives more if vaccines are not rolled out and that is exactly what we need to avoid.

Theme 7 - Climate change is real!

The movie constantly focuses on how the imminent danger is ignored and no one notices it until it is right in front of their eyes, with no way to turn around.

Leonardo DiCaprio is a climate activist and his personal ties with the movie is what made an absolutely flawless Dr. Mindy. ”I’m sure I can say this on behalf of pretty much everybody: It’s extremely frustrating to be a citizen who believes in climate change and is scared, but I’m not a part of it — you know, I can’t buy a senator — so we’re just kind of helpless,” said Jennifer Lawrence.

Thousands of youth activists are rising in all parts of the world to combat climate change and raise awareness. Climate anxiety has become a real issue and we’re all just struggling to cope with it.

For those who don’t believe, this movie is for you. We are just a tiny dot in the large expanse of the universe. We keep testing Earth and one day, she is going to rip us right off her surface and watch us burn in the flames we created.

Criticism of the movie

Movie buffs from around the world have admired this movie due to its all-star cast and the themes it covers. However, critics argue that due to the wide range of myths that the movie bursts, the admirable qualities are squashed under the broadness of its tone.

The movie gets more complicated as sub-characters are introduced with twists in the plot that delay the inevitable doom. The slow tone of the movie towards the end is a result of the tension on whether the flawed leaders of the world will act against the disaster they created or combat it with all they have.

Another point brought to notice is how McKay treated this as an American disaster. Although Ishaan Khatter appears in a five-second video cameo scolding the US for not making this a world issue. There could have been a little more information about how the other countries have decided to tackle it.

Moreover, critics from all around the world believe that this allegorical movie failed to be a good movie due to its awful jokes that brought about no laughs and strayed the audience away from the disastrous (quite literally) film that didn’t require the failed jokes.

Despite the movie being dangerously close to two and a half hours long, McKay made it seem completely flawless, covered all the main themes and found a way to weave in Dr Mindy’s personal life dramatics.

From a black man being arrested to a shovel costing $599, this movie showed the world’s condition today. McKay’s genius direction and impeccable cinematography doesn’t allow the viewers to even blink their eyes as there are too many things going at once, keeping them on their toes.

We have to admit it though - the movie did have an impact on the audience towards the end. It left the viewers with an important message. The important takeaway is that we might not have the power to battle a planet-killing comet but we do have the strength to tackle climate change if we all take necessary action, right now.

Despite the theatrics, the ending (pardon the pun) hits home with the mundane talking of family and friends having dinner at a table, saying grace and having normal dinner-time conversations. However, what we have to learn is that Ignoring a crisis, until it is too late, is never a good choice as clearly shown by this beautifully-casted movie.

 Jess Doshi 

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