Don't Look Up is a satire of the climate crisis that we are facing today, and although it is a well executed film, it raises an important question: should we still need media like this?
Spoiler-Free Thoughts About the Movie
Don't Look Up is the story of a PhD student and her Professor discovering a comet that is on a direct collision course with Earth, and this comet is what scientists refer to as a "Planet Killer". Kate Dibiasky, played by Jennifer Lawrence, and Randall Mindy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio, begin working to inform people in power, as well as the general public, about the severity of the issue to ensure action is taken - as it would mean the end of humanity if nothing is done.
Jonah Hill plays the Chief of Staff of the US, as his Mom, Meryl Streep, is the US President. President Janie Orlean, played by Streep, is clearly a play on right wing politicians, downplaying scientific issues that she cannot understand and watering down information in a way that ends up diluting the message being delivered. Although this was funny, it was also a bit painful to think about how this is actually happening with the climate crisis and politicians that are supposed to be "protecting and serving" the citizens.
The rest of the characters in the movie follow the typical rules of characters in satirical media. They are all exaggerations of people actively a part of the climate crisis today - politicians, members of the media, scientists, etc. Even though these characters are the most extreme version of the person they are representing, they nailed the characters and their individual development. I think that most viewers will know someone similar to every character in the movie in terms of the way they are approaching or responding to the climate crisis. The relatability of the characters, or at least their relationships, really makes this movie stand out in a way that many other satires do not.
As a brief aside, I think this movie makes a very subtle How I Met Your Mother reference, and I really hope that it was intentional and not a crazy coincidence. Early in movie, Dr. Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) receives a call from his wife to check in. During this, she mentions that their son, Marshall, just found out he scored a 172 on the LSAT and they're celebrating. On the surface, this may not seem like much, however, remembering that this movie is really about climate change, I believe that they were referring to Marshall from How I Met Your Mother, as he is an environmental lawyer. Marshall - Marshall, lawyer - lawyer, environmental lawyer - environmental movie... seems suspicious.
The plot of Don't Look Up is very well thought out, and keeps you engaged whether you are actively aware of the allusions it is making or not. Even for someone who knows nothing about the climate crisis, this would be an extremely enjoyable movie. In terms of educating viewers about the complexities of the climate crisis, I actually think it does a wonderful job. Don't get me wrong, this is nothing like Gasland or Before the Flood, they aren't going to be breaking down the science of climate change in this movie (it's a satire, remember?). However, I think that the insight it provides on what happens behind the scenes is extremely valuable.
This movie also illustrates the political complexity of climate change wonderfully, with politicians completely ignoring facts and processes and instead working to increase their appeal to voters or increase profits of their largest supporters. The public politics went right in line with this as well, with a part of the movie even talking about how more and more people were starting to doubt that there actually was a comet. Leonardo DiCaprio's character of Dr. Mindy said it perfectly during a later scene, exclaiming "What other proof do we need?", a question frequently asked by climate scientists.
Overall, I think that this movie is wonderful. It is entertaining, educational, and topical. More people should watch this movie and look at it for what it is - a satire, but a very accurate satire. I hope that the people that watch this movie laugh, but at the end I hope they are a bit disgusted that it is based on real-life occurrences of our politicians and leaders choosing to profit rather than choosing to protect its citizens.
Climate Rating: 4.5/5
But... Should We Need Content Like This?
Should we? No.
Wall-E came out in 2008. The Lorax came out as a book in 1971 and again as an animated feature film in 2012. There has been a new documentary about the environment and climate change seemingly every single year. I mean, just go on youtube and type in "climate change", and the amount of quality content is seemingly endless.
We should not need to continue producing content to justify or explain the climate crisis or the brick walls that those fighting against it seems to face at every turn. Between the education content and entertainment content, the severity of this issue should be understood, and we should already be taking decisive action.
But... Do we need more content like this?
In a world where our dependence on fossil fuels is growing, rather than shrinking, we need to do whatever it takes to make people aware of the issues at hand and the action that must be taken to solve this massive problem.
The direct information can be overwhelming to the average person who may be learning about climate change for the first time, so continuing to produce content that allows people to slowly understand the issue without being flooded with doomsday predictions and scientific figures that they aren't able to understand is essential to keeping the public educated on the topic as we move closer and closer to the critical moments.
It is important to look at our world for what it is, and sometimes viewing it in a satirical way is the best way to do that. When it is clear how much of a joke our current processes and procedures are, it makes people wonder why we haven't made changes to the way things are done. The fact that Don't Look Up was able to feature a "joke" about police violence towards people of color and it is still as topical as it was two years ago shows just how little can change, even when it is so clear that changes need to be made.
I hope that content like Don't Look Up continues to be produced and continues to help the average person understand the dire situation we're in and how seemingly impossible it is to have action taken without the support of the public. The more information we're able to make accessible to the public, the more change we will be able to make. Politicians will always do whatever they can to be re-elected, so if we the public make climate change our priority, they'll have no option but to take the decisive action needed to fight it and make a difference.
Potential Spoilers! Exploring the Allusions to the Climate Crisis!
As a satirical film, many allusions are made between the events happening on screen and the events happening in real life, specifically those related to the climate crisis we are currently experiencing. I won't go too crazy here, but I want to explore a few of those that stood out to me.
1. The Politics of climate change. This movie does a fantastic job of illustrating the political nightmare of taking action on climate change.
The first meeting that the protagonists have after making the discovery of the comet is with the President of the United States. Throughout this meeting, the President and her Chief of Staff (and son) repeatedly ignore the warnings of the scientists, and attempt to downplay the severity of the issue. This, unfortunately, happens all too frequently in climate policy. Whether it is outright denial that human actions are causing the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere and the impact that's having, or refusal to pass legislation to take decisive action against the issue, politicians on both sides are all too quick to downplay the severity and urgency of the issue to ensure that their public appears remains as neutral and bland as possible. Climate change should not be a political issue, yet our politicians are always finding a way to politicize it. Don't Look Up does a wonderful job of illustrating this during a scene where the President agrees to take action against the comet hurdling towards Earth. In this scene, she tells the Director of NASA (an appointed position held by someone with no astronomical background - nice) that she has to take the fall for the inaction of the administration so that they are able to maintain their appearance. She then goes on to discuss what the plan is for protecting the planet, and explains how they will have a human piloted ship as part of the fleet so that Washington can have a hero. The plan, may I add, is essentially to throw a bunch of nuclear bombs at the comet, so the odds of survival are as close to zero as you possibly can get. Although this is downright idiotic, the President insists on having her hero - trading a life for the political pedestal this will put her on. Unfortunately, climate change has a similar issue - the solutions aren't necessarily sexy, so no politician wants to be the one to take the first leap. They need their hero, and that hero better make them look like the savior of the world overnight.
2. Profit over preservation.
This narrative may be the most impactful on the movie, and it is also the most impactful to the climate crisis. When the US is launching its mission to deflect the comet and save the planet, the CEO of a corporation called BASH Cellular enters the room, and the Chief of Staff says that he has full clearance since he is the largest donor to the President's campaign. If it wasn't bad enough that you could purchase full clearance, he then calls the President out of the room, and she ends up turning the ships around and cancelling their mission and the absolute last moment. This CEO then presents how there is upwards of $100 trillion of rare metals on this comet that could be used in production of cell phones and computers, and his team has come up with a plan to safely bring pieces of the comet to Earth so the metals may be harvested. If this isn't a direct allusion to the harvesting and burning of fossil fuels, then I don't know what is. This company, just like the governments and corporations in our world, are willing to risk the lives of every person if it means they could make more money. Obviously, no part of the plan this company has put together is peer reviewed, and it is just a couple of scientists who have made extreme claims supporting the company's desires. Carl Sagan said "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence" and these scientists, similar to those denying climate change, have no evidence or support for their claims. As we move through the end of the movie, (SPOILERS) the plan does not work, and the fully intact comet crashes into Earth, and wipes out all life. I think that this is a warning, since our inaction on climate change is leading us closer and closer to this future. Last ditch efforts, all or nothings, and Hail Mary's tend not to be successful. The world in this movie put their faith in a Hail Mary, and it led to the end of life. If we put all of our faith in the hope that someone at some point will create some magical technology that will solve everything overnight, we very well could end up like the citizens of this world.
3. The media and its relationship with climate content.
The media, like it or not, is an important role in how information is passed from a small group of people to the general public. Without the media in some form, we would not have as much information ready and waiting for us as we do. While this is a good thing, as information is more accessible than it has ever been, it can also be a bad thing, since misinformation is just as accessible as the truth. The media plays a role in Don't Look Up through the talk show that Dr. Mindy and Kate go on throughout the movie. The hosts are the stereotypical talk show hosts who like to keep things light and fun, and don't want to get too caught up in science or depressing topics. Throughout the movie, we see these hosts making light of the issue, even though the scientists have explained time and time again that the comet will literally kill everyone if nothing is done. After BASH decides to attempt their plan to harvest rare metals from the comet, the media then highlights all of the jobs that this could lead to (and ignoring the fact that if it doesn't work everyone on the entire planet will die). This narrative is strong in the climate crisis as well. Oil and coal companies talking about how fracking and tar sands plants are great for the economy because they create jobs, yet they ignore the water that these plants contaminate, or the earthquakes caused by fracking. Dr. Mindy said it best, "what do these trillions of dollars matter if we're all going to die?", and he's right. What do the jobs created by killing our planet matter if those jobs are just digging our own grave?
The amount of articles I have read about this movie since it has come out is almost unbelievable, considering how little coverage Netflix Original Films tend to receive. Although a lot of these articles have had interesting insights and responses to the movies, some include opinions of the writer that are being presented as facts while being incorrect. In one article from the New York Times (I can't get into the article for free so I cannot credit it - just let me read the freaking article) the writer discusses how this movie is a poor representation of the climate crisis, as there is no clear timeline for the climate crisis and the technology necessary to solve the issue does not exist yet, and both of those things exist in Don't Look Up. Well, I agree on one thing, which is that both of those elements are present in the movie. Unfortunately, the statements regarding climate change are not true. The book, Drawdown edited by Paul Hawken was released in 2017, and it outlines all of the technology/strategies that exist today that could reduce CO2 emissions below critical levels, and aiding to solve the climate crisis. So, the technology and strategies necessary to solve this problem do exist, it just takes the will power to institute them to begin solving it. In terms of the timeline, this is relatively clear as well. The current goal that scientists have set is to keep warming at or below 1.5 degrees Celsius in 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels. To meet this, emissions need to be halved by 2030, and they need to be at net-zero by 2050. These targets would keep warming at around that 1.5 degree level. With the current initiatives that are in place across the world, we are on pace for 2.9 degrees of warming, which would be catastrophic. The timeline is clear, and the tools we need to solve the problem are available. It just takes implementing these strategies and getting the ball rolling.