Don’t Look Up: Review

Don’t Look Up takes the best of Adam McKay’s Saturday Night Live humour to produce an endlessly thought-provoking satire of political inaction, digitalised narcissism and the climate crisis.

The all-star cast includes Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky, and Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy, her professor. Kate discovers a large comet at the beginning of the film, the credit for which is gradually stripped from her – largely by the tabloid media- as the comet’s world-ending nature comes to light. In a narrative not limited to fiction, Dr. Mindy awards himself fame and credit for her work without long-term responsibility, as experienced by many women in professional male-dominated fields. 

Simultaneously to the demonisation of Dibiasky, we see Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett – the President and famed newsreader respectively – introduced as calculated, self-absorbed women despite their influential positions. Blanchett’s fake teeth and spectacular makeup transform her into an eerily familiar right-wing mouthpiece , whilst close-up shots of Streep’s excessive gold jewelry reflect a power-hungry, uncaring and polarised political environment. These parallels add a level of sincerity and immediacy to the film despite the post-modern form.  The disaster fiction is interrupted by documentary-style nature clips and comedic text graphics – one example of such is the contrast created when Dibiasky vomits, overwhelmed by impending extinction, as the title overlay appears accompanied by upbeat sitcom-reminiscent music.

This careful composition is also conveyed through the title, “Don’t Look Up.” Though obnoxiously flaunted in the film through protest scenes reminiscent of the Capitol raid, MAGA and anti-vax rallies, it is more subtly encapsulated in its reflection of digital personalisation (including the likes of your TikTok FYP). The Musk-inspired Isherwell proposes a dystopian algorithm-induced emotional reduction – describing “life without the stress of living” – this laugh-out-loud line reflects an increasing desire for a life free of nagging, worry and capitalist constraints. It evokes the words of Dibiasky: “maybe the destruction of the planet isn’t supposed to be fun”- either way, we will continue to work, shop and scroll to fulfill our role as a cog in the capitalist machine.

We have an inability to “look up” from our own interests and daily struggles, in a similar way to each character. Our breakups, professional success and family struggles all feel just as immediate to us as mass extinction. Here fictional and factual narratives align to appeal to the guilt of an eco-conscious viewer: despite our increasing awareness of the climate crisis, most of us fail to take meaningful action and face a fate akin to those of Don’t Look Up.  

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Libby Hargreaves

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June 2022
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