Don’t Look Up Review

Published 11 months ago -

By: Quinn Ryan

Adam Mckay’s Don’t Look Up took the world by storm last Christmas by giving the people exactly what they wanted. First of all, this movie was released on Netflix, meaning that countless people had access to it right when it came out. Second of all, it has an absolutely star-studded cast. The cast list includes Leonardo Dicaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Ariana Grande, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Tyler Perry, and more. I think more than anything else, this movie proved to the public that a Netflix movie could still be a cultural event. In the times of Covid, movie theatres have been struggling to draw people in to see new movies. But, at the same time, there has been this sense that movies released immediately to a streaming service were in a way inferior to the traditionally released films that people were used to. I believe that this movie is part of a cultural turning point where movies that are made for Netflix or other streamers are taken a bit more seriously and even start to take the place of the traditional release style. 

With all that being said, though, let’s talk about the movie. Don’t Look Up follows Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo Dicaprio) and graduate student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) after they make the startling discovery that there is a large asteroid hurtling towards Earth.  

Mindy and Dibiasky head to the White House to tell President Orlean (Meryl Streep) about the planet’s impending doom, only to find that their concerns are not being taken seriously. Even though they can demonstrate through their math that the asteroid is certain to collide with Earth, Orlean doubts their findings and says that it is an issue that can be dealt with later if need be. 

Mindy and Dibiasky are deeply unsatisfied with this result because they know that this asteroid 

would spell the end of the human race, so they take to news networks and social media platforms to spread awareness of the impending danger. They go on a morning talk show in the hopes that they can rally the public to force government action, but they find again that they aren’t able to convince the hosts of the danger. Dibiasky has a meltdown on the air because nobody realizes that they only have six months left to live. This leads her to be labeled as a psycho, and she becomes the laughing stock of the internet within a few hours. 

Over the course of the next few weeks, the public starts to see the real danger that is present, and eventually Mindy joins a team of NASA scientists that are tasked with shifting the asteroid off course. However, upon the launch of the mission, tech billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) convinces President Orlean to stop the mission because the asteroid happens to be made up of valuable minerals. Isherwell proposes using his technology to harvest the asteroid instead of just diverting its course, despite the unproven efficacy of his plan. The asteroid becomes the subject of a serious political divide in the US, with half of the population in fear of the asteroid’s collision course, and the other half donning the mantra ‘don’t look up,’ because they don’t even believe that the asteroid is real. The story revolves around a stressful timeline, but is not without its humor, with the president’s son Jason (Jonah Hill) being one of the funniest parts of the movie. Ultimately, the planet’s last hope is that the billionaire’s plan to use the asteroid for personal gain will save the planet, but I will not say whether the plan works or not. 

This film is a very obvious metaphor for the current political climate in some not-so-subtle ways. President Orlean is an obvious parallel to Donald Trump, in both their mannerisms, attitudes towards the public and the media, and even their distrust in the scientific consensus. Her supporters even wear red hats with the slogan ‘don’t look up’ on them. The asteroid was originally intended to be a symbol for climate change, because, despite the mountains of evidence 

suggesting the catastrophic results that will take place, many people ignore it or even doubt that it is real. Now, a very fitting yet unintended connection would also be that the asteroid can be seen as a symbol for Covid-19, for a lot of the same reasons. As far as making its point goes, I think the movie does a really good job of making it clear the stance that it’s taking, in an overly dramatic way. The main takeaway is that the government and the public should trust the scientific community when they say something is a problem, and take the necessary steps to save humanity instead of sacrificing long term safety for short term economic success. 

Even though I happen to agree with the message of the film, this is a movie critique and not a discussion post about climate change. I think that there are definitely aspects of this movie that are really well done, but I also think that there are parts that could have been done better. For one, the metaphors were just so on the nose that seeing the point belabored over and over again did get a little tiring. Also, as far as world-building goes, there were some parts that were just not very believable. For instance, I think that Dr. Mindy’s character was pretty flushed out. He had a simple life with his wife and kids, but when he started to get some attention from the media, he let it go to his head and started acting differently. I believed that he could have been a real person. Also, and unfortunately, President Orlean was mostly believable, as her portrayal served as a mirror to a lot of Trump’s presidency. However, some characters were not as flushed out and seemed to just be pawns that pushed the narrative instead of fully realized characters. In particular, Kate Dibiasky just served as a troubled and sarcastic college student for most of the film, with the only real connection we got to make with her character being when her own parents rejected her because they were part of the ‘don’t look up’ mob. Yule (Timothée Chalamet) is another such character. We meet him about halfway through the film, and he recognizes Dibiasky from her role as a popular meme. The two end up talking and making out in a parking lot, and he really doesn’t fit into the narrative in another way. They both feel more like examples of how people would abandon hope and act differently if they knew that their lives were going to end, rather than people that could realistically exist in the world. Although the movie was entertaining and I enjoyed my watching experience, I think that it is missing an element of character development and world-building that would make the emotional impact of the dilemma that much more intense. I would definitely recommend watching this movie, if for nothing else to be able to participate in the popular dialogue surrounding the film.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

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