By James Moules
THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS
DISTRUST of science and scientists is, depressingly, nothing new.
From Galileo to Darwin all the way to the life-saving work carried out by experts during the pandemic, certain cohorts within society have always treated humanity’s finest scientific minds with hostility.
But one of the most alarming manifestations of this trend is climate change denial – both due to the critical urgency of preventing catastrophe and the number of holders of high power and office who have engaged in it.
While climate change isn’t on the agenda in Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up, the allegory is so thinly veiled that even the world’s most literal thinker could join the dots.
Instead, this star-studded satire opens with the discovery of a killer comet on collision course with Earth by PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) under the watch of her angsty supervisor Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio).
But when they try to warn the authorities about Dibiasky’s discovery, they seem alarmingly blasé about the impending apocalypse. The President (Meryl Streep) and her staff seem more preoccupied with other matters to begin with, and the media fail to take it any more seriously.
As the comet draws nearer and nearer, more and more complications arise to what should be a straightforward mission to save the planet from destruction. Conspiracies theories bubble up, interested parties have agendas of their own – all while the scientists endeavour to bring a sense of the rational to proceedings.
Don’t Look Up is not a subtle film. Even the most cursory observer of current affairs will be able to recognise the parallels and analogies that McKay weaves into his film.
One of the most obvious of all is the use of MAGA style hats worn by those in denial about the threat of the comet, bearing the film’s title instead of Trump’s campaign slogan.
It’s understandable then that many viewers might find this film grating, especially viewers who keep a watchful eye on US politics. For a film that’s central theme is the disregard that people with money and power have for science when it inconveniences them, it has remarkably little new to say.
The rampant climate denial in the US Republican Party is no secret at all. Nor is it a secret that failure to act on the climate will lead to unprecedented environmental catastrophe.
It’s east to point this out, and it’s easy to lament it. Don’t Look Up gets this message across in a suitably entertaining fashion, but those hoping for a more incisive satire might be disappointed.
Don’t Look Up also feels disappointingly uncinematic, especially considering its all star cast. Whether by design or by fault, the film feels more like a bloated TV sketch at times than a full feature film.
Nevertheless, Don’t Look Up is undeniably fun. DiCaprio and Lawrence are characteristically excellent in their respective roles, bringing the audience along with them as their frustration at the world’s wilful ignorance grows.
The film will no doubt be compared to Michael Bay’s 1998 hit Armageddon, which saw Bruce Willis save the world from a giant asteroid.
Don’t Look Up is the antithesis of this film. As the end draws nearer and it becomes clear that the world will not be saved, DiCaprio and Lawrence’s characters grow accepting of their fate in a bittersweet finale.
McKay could have leaned more heavily on anger. Anger that the means to save the world existed and weren’t used. Why? Because it was too inconvenient for too many in power.
For a film that presents itself as a parable, its only moral message appears to be: listen to the scientists. For Don’t Look Up to have been a great film, it would have needed to give us more than this.
But nonetheless, the themes of the film do bring a sense of urgency to the threats our planet faces. What we do next is up to us.
Featured Image: Hyperobject Industries/Netflix
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