WHEN I first thought of writing about Don’t Look Up, Netflix’s big Christmas Eve release – a climate change allegory that trades global warming for the threat of a “killer comet” planets “heading towards Earth – I thought of this as a relatively light topic for my Christmas week environmental column.
But, of course, this leading disaster comedy is about as dark as it gets and has since polarized opinion in such a way that many of its critics have felt the need to protest that they are not deniers and that they are climate advocates. action. So it’s a quick reissue of my old column.
“Maybe destroying the entire planet isn’t meant to be fun. Maybe it’s supposed to be terrifying and unsettling and you should stay awake all night, every night, crying, ”a desperate Jennifer Lawrence shouts at one point. Some critics have complained that the movie is a bit of a mess, or that a lot of the jokes fall flat, but I found it darkly entertaining. Even jokes like Jonah Hill’s prayer for all the “dope” stuff that was going to be lost, as well as all of life after the comet impact, sparked a painful laugh.
Director Adam McKay made it clear that Don’t Look Up is about the climate crisis. He said he was inspired to write it after reading David Wallace-Wells’ catastrophic portrait of a post-warming world, The Uninhabitable Earth. “It all came down to this idea,” McKay said, “I just couldn’t shake: we all know how to react when there’s a killer with an ax, or when your house is on fire, but what the author David Wallace-Wells wrote about was a million times worse. How do you make people understand that this is a clear and present danger? ”
Of course, Don’t Look Up is an allegory, and not really about the weather, and he doesn’t even mention it. And looking at it, I remembered our responses to the pandemic as much as I remembered the climate. The film’s “impact deniers”, with their slogan “don’t look up,” made me think as much of anti-maskers and anti-vaxxers as they did of climate change deniers.
Don’t Look Up follows scientists as they attempt to warn the world of the comet threat, but are thwarted by politicians, the media, and a tech billionaire, eager to act in their own interests. It presents us with a world preoccupied with the sex life, scandals and relationships of others, as well as financial profit. There is a horrible president (Meryl Streep) who wants to keep the comet silent until after the midterm elections. Popstar Riley Bina (Arianna Grande) and her boyfriend (Kid Cudi) break up and make-up virtually break the internet, while the TV appearance of whistleblower scientists (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) ignites only disastrous misogynistic memes.
A constant refrain is that what scientists need is “media training,” which ultimately seems to mean they should learn not to look panicked or overly feminine. As news anchor Cate Blanchett puts it, “The handsome astronomer, he can come back anytime. But the screaming lady, not so much.
I recognize this world.
This is the one we live in. This is the world in which the news that the Thwaites Glacier is melting so quickly that it could rupture within five years does not make the headlines – and I understand why. He is lost in the rising sea of Covid news. One threat, please, at a time.
It’s also lost because it’s not an extreme weather event that people are already dying in. And it’s lost because we’re pissed off by the explosion of last year’s Conservative Christmas scandal. Don’t Look Up also occupies the same world in which Squid Game got ten times more mentions online than COP26 as the conference neared.
Of course, a comet colliding with Earth is not the same as the climate crisis, and that limits how far the film can push its exploration. For starters, there is only one solution to the comet (no spoilers) while there are many ways we can and should approach the issue of climate and emissions. Many of us are also, especially those who are relatively wealthy, the creators of the problem, rather than its accidental victims. Do not go to this film if you are looking for a textbook on the climate crisis or how to solve it.
The mess that many criticized, to me, was part of its appeal. It sounded like a chaotic vomiting of the difficult feelings surrounding climate change. A scene where Jennifer Lawrence vomits while waiting for the President, lingers with me. It expressed some of the discomfort I feel when thinking or writing about something to do with the weather.
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The film also got me thinking about how, although climate denial has diminished, we still struggle to tell the story of climate change in a way that inspires people to take action, without sending them down the path. apathy and terror, or even anger (which seems to have been sparked by this movie). Can people really be this upset just because they think it’s a poorly made movie? A lot of people say, and I’m paraphrasing them, “Yeah, that is really bullshit.”
I do not agree. But maybe that says as much about my taste for cinema as it does my perspective on the climate. Don’t Look Up is an attempt to tell the story of the climate in a way that galvanizes us. But his message is perhaps too fatal, and he feels himself destined to preach to converts, or perceived, despite his wicked satire, as too worthy. Watch it for excruciating laughs and cathartic relief if you’re already worried about the climate crisis; no new answers on how to save the world, or some nifty analysis.
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