Director Adam McKay’s “DON’T LOOK UP“ is his latest addition of a snarky mockery evidently aimed at politicians and the larger society out there. This movie clearly depicts the apathetic attitude of the world, netizens and individuals concerning the imminent climate crisis.
It starts with two astronomers, Dr Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiansky (Jennifer Lawrence). First, the duo unravels a “planet killer” comet heading towards Earth. Then, they go on a media frenzy only to discover how distracted and short-sighted the world was.
Why the necessity of a media tour? Yes, the need to “spread the word” was crucial through mass media to make people aware of the imminent threat. But, moreover, the necessity also arose due to denial of scientific fact, peer-reviewed data, and neglect from the government authorities, including the “Trumpian” President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and the head of her staff (jonah hill).
Meanwhile, during the media tour, our astronomers are met with scepticism and indifference from the media and the internet at large to their devastating discovery.
The life-changing or rather life-ending discovery by a Ph.D. student (Dibiansky) of a comet with the power of a billion Hiroshima bombs, capable of spreading an earthquake of 10 or 11 magnitudes, was a mere banter for the oval office or just another “world is ending” meetings.
The oval office disregards saying they have had several such trivial discussions this month about how the Earth will end. Ultimately, this leads to a billionaire’s plan with a tech company to blow up the comet and bring the smaller pieces to Earth to harvest valuable resources in the space rock for money.
Doesn’t that seem like a paradox, for America is the world leader, and NASA is a dominant space tech player? Yes, we all know it’s a movie but isn’t Cinema a reflection of our society?
Or is it a stark portrayal of the sad reality that we live in today where the scientific predictions of the apocalypse or even factual IPCC reports are taken for granted? Even worse- global warming is called a “hoax” by a former president? The movie is a funny and honest analysis of the people who have the most power over our lives, i.e. our political representatives.
Politicians and Corporations
Telling a politician, a businessman, and the TRP hungry media about the 100% potential of a “comet” ending planet earth in just 6 months is a frustrating task for the scientists who do not care much about entitlements.
Politicians are more concerned about poll results and propaganda than policymaking. It seems like political expediency dictates planetary protection. The media worries more about finding something scandalous and blowing it out of proportion than alerting people to imminent destruction. More emphasis is placed on sensationalism in talk shows like the personal lives of pop stars.
Corporate opportunists and tech billionaires use even a planet-destroying disaster to profit and extract resources to mint money. (Truth bomb- CSR is not enough!) Later in the movie, the presidential political campaign slogan “don’t look up” reminds us how naive political agendas can be.
The movie mirrors who we really are and what society we live in. Not everyone likes seeing reality and knowing the truth. Because we enjoy “living in collective denial”, a large chunk of us prioritize mindless entertainment more than anything else. The film is a hilarious and horrifying allegory of humanity’s choosing ignorance over the uncomfortable truth.
“The movie is an analogy of modern-day culture and our inability to hear and listen to scientific truth“, as quoted by Leo DiCaprio.
The happy realization!
For “happy realization”, we wait for the worst to happen. The argumentative discussion in the movie’s first half about the “certainty of impact”, whether 100% or 99.78%, seems stressful. After the president received all the information in the scene, the conclusion was to “sit tight and assess”.
The whole conversation seems absurd to the audience and sort of unbelievable. But that is a “satire”- to expose and condemn people’s foolishness through the use of humour, irony, exaggeration, ridicule, or vices. It also represents the awful reality of our elected representatives to make humongous reports, organize fancy conventions but achieve minimal in fact.
The movie brings out the most challenging thing in the world, “to make people believe in the truth?” This is what climate activists and climate defenders experience on a day-to-day basis. With minimal, incomplete, and misinformed media coverage, the situation gets worse.
An apparent dichotomy of “believers” and “non-believers” can be observed. The most significant issues get sidelined by the latter group. It is nothing less than a mockery in the name of a “meme culture”.
As quoted by a climate scientist- “To have ourselves not taken seriously, at times ridiculed by the press, to have politicians sometimes pay attention for a while but then lose their focus, for many of us it was very evocative of what we’ve experienced”.
The comet is a metaphor for the climate crisis, and no analogy is perfect. However, climate change requires sustainable and intergenerational consensus, unlike an incoming comet. The truth is that, unlike the comet, climate change is unlikely to completely destroy human civilization, yet, the film serves as a stark reminder that our society cannot be taken for granted.
You don’t need much energy to knock this meteor or asteroid off track if you catch it when it’s still extremely far away. However, if you wait until the last minute, you’ll have to put a lot of effort into it. And eventually, you run out of energy to do anything about it. In that regard, the climate is comparable.
We would not have needed to spend as much money if we had started taking climate action 40 years ago, and we would be fine now. But, unfortunately, it’s getting more and more expensive as we keep putting it off, putting it off, expecting it’ll be the problem of the next generation rather than ours. And there will come a time when we won’t be able to do anything about it.
The long timescale brings intergenerational conflict: today’s veteran leaders fail to take needed actions, but today’s young people and offspring bear the consequences.
The BASH CEO Isherwell is a clear example of the failure of the private sector to take up any individual initiative except for compensating by planting trees. It’s probably not a good idea to allow the people who can hoard the most money to decide humanity’s fate.
“Don’t Look Up” tackles important subjects with humour and heart. It will make you laugh and inspire you to learn more about climate change. It can be seen as an “analogy or an allegory for the climate crisis.” A kind of parody that revealed the underlying truth.
The film’s title is derived from an astronomy denialist’s argument that the comet can simply be ignored into oblivion. It answers a seemingly tricky question, “In a world that has experienced the Donald Trump presidency, can anything appear more satirical?” Yes, the response to the climate crisis by all sections of society is more satirical.
If things are not taken seriously and implemented on time, there will be a definite “beyond repair” or “irreplaceable” situation.
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About the Author
Manali Mathur is a freelance editor and research enthusiast. Although she enjoys open-hearted conversations about life, being an extrovert with humour comes in handy. She pursued a master’s in political science from Delhi University and was a former intern at NHRC, Delhi. Her core areas of interest lie in public policy, diplomacy, environment, governance, administration.