‘Don’t Look Up’: the controversial display of Earth’s fight with climate change

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Julia Nardone

Netflix’s ‘Don’t Look Up’ explores the issue of climate change through the satirical use of a comet heading towards Earth.

Just look up: a plea for the world to wake up and realize that the Earth is being stripped of everything that makes it our home to fuel the greed for power of those who say ‘Don’t look up’.

One of the more controversial movies of 2021, Don’t Look Up stars Leonardo Dicaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Timothee Chalamet, and various other famous actors. Directed by Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up is a satirical film depicting the impending consequences of climate change through the threat of a comet careening towards Earth with the limited response from the government, media, and public.

Astronomers Dr. Randall Mindy(Dicaprio) and Kate Dibiasky(Lawrence) discover a comet heading towards Earth that is predicted to make an impact in six months wiping out everything on the planet. They take their issue to the President of the United States(Streep) who gives them very little attention to the seriousness of the situation. Throughout the fim, Mindy and Dibiasky attempt to convince the world that the comet will kill everyone if they don’t do something to divert its course away from Earth. Unfortunately, at every turn, the scientists are turned away by the US government, the media, and the people, being ridiculed by the world, showing that everyone just doesn’t care. 

With a striking realism to the film, Don’t Look Up combines the delegitimization of scientists, the political influence of decisions based on ideology, and the dependence on billionaires in policymaking, all with a satirical, dry humor throughout a 138-minute film.

Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen.”

— Climate scientist Peter Kalmus

Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen,” climate scientist Peter Kalmus said in an opinion piece with The Guardian.

Since it’s release, Don’t Look Up has faced significant criticism from its conservative audience with arguments that the film is “a cynical, insufferably smug satire(The Hollywood Reporter)” and that “McKay manages to deliver nothing more than a derivative and meandering “satire” of capitalism(Washington Examiner).” 

Regardless of your political affiliations, there is a plausible reason for some of these criticisms in that the film attacks the side of the argument they need to convince of the problem, therefore reducing the impact of what they’re attempting to convey, pushing the other side farther away.

“[The] script states the obvious as if everyone else is too stupid to realize it and does so from a position of lofty superiority that would drive away any partisans who still need to be won over,” Charles Bramesco said in an article from The Guardian.

However, while this argument is valid, sometimes there is no other option than to be blunt regarding issues that have seen very little change in the past couple of years as they are steadily growing worse. 

The film is supposed to make you feel bad, it’s supposed to frustrate you, it’s supposed to make you come to the realization that something needs to change, and Don’t Look Up succeeds with that. The obvious disrespect of the scientists throughout the film is dramatic, but not far off from how some leaders have treated scientists today. 

For example, President Trump repeatedly verbally attacked Dr. Anthony Fauci in 2020 when he was still in office. In October of 2020 according to the New York Times, Trump said, “People are tired of hearing Fauci and these idiots, all these idiots who got it wrong,” when regarding the scientists who were working to prevent further spread of the Coronavirus. 

While that is not a specific climate change issue, the statement is clear; Some important figures, in particular President Trump who has caused a catalyst of mistrust within his fanbase around science, discredit and disrespect the word of science if it goes against their own political agendas. 

Personally, I believe Don’t Look Up achieved the publicity it needed to send its message to those who disagree. In many ways, the mixed reactions to the film are exactly what it was trying to convey: that the country is divided on the issue of climate change and that it is because of this that it is not being taken seriously.