The highly anticipated Don’t Look Up is a story of suspense, greed, and strategy in the face of impending doom. The newest project by director Adam McKay tells the story of Michigan State doctoral student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her advisor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) who makes a discovery of a meteor 5-10 kilometers wide hurtling towards earth set to impact in 6 months and 14 days that would almost certainly result in total planetary destruction.
Dr. Mindy and Ms. Dibiasky are met with an unending barrage of denial to preserve television ratings, social media engagement, and political objectives. This is reminiscent of the 1975 classic Jaws, when the discovery of a killer shark in the waters off the coast of the highly visited beach is dismissed by the mayor to prioritize the town’s business interests and the upcoming, highly profitable Independence Day weekend. Meryl Streep’s President Orlean and her incompetent spawn Jason (Jonah Hill) provide a familiar example of the dangers of nepotistic idiocracy in the face of impending calamity, where our fate is at the mercy of the decisions made by elected officials. Even Dr. Jocelyn Calder (Hettienne Park), the head of NASA (and a Presidential Orlean super donor) is quick to downplay the severity of such a discovery describing the alarmed response as a “near-miss hysteria”.
The star-studded cast of Don’t Look Up did not disappoint portraying the depth of the characters who brought this story to life. The young Kate Dibiasky reacts to her discovery with an array of confidence, passion, and overwhelming emotions. The use of a dieting app in her phone to track the quickly approaching date of destruction sheds light on the chokehold diet culture has on our priority list. Sure the world is ending, but that doesn’t mean our attention needs to be completely off the perpetual goal to slim down for the approval of others!
DiCaprio excellently depicts her counterpart Dr. Mindy as an established astronomer turned household name and sought after heartthrob. A man both distinguished and beloved, Dr. Mindy has a clear lack of self confidence paired with an anxiety disorder for which he is medicated. He also has depression, high blood pressure, and erectile dysfunction as detailed in his wife June’s (Melanie Lynskey) permissive meltdown upon discovering his infidelity. He even goes so far as to tell his short lived fling he was falling in love with her, despite her motivation for pursuing Mindy being clearly and solely sexual. It never hurts to be reminded that even the most seemingly self-assured and capable people can be just as insecure and pathetic as those with far less to offer.
Mark Rylance plays Peter Isherwall, leader of the tech conglomerate BASH and the “third richest human ever” with a hunger for profit far exceeding any motivation for preserving what makes life as we know it possible. An obviously intelligent individual, Isherwall briefly indulges an effort to deflect the threat to Earth before discovering the potential for financial gains to be made from the resources contained within the comet. His pitch in a Whitehouse briefing frames this discovery as a means to end poverty, social injustices, and the loss of biodiversity despite a complete lack of peer review. The power he has on the panel of decision makers feels uncomfortably real in a time when the success of a small group of individuals is constantly reinforced leaving everyone else behind.
What Don’t Look Up definitely got right was the responses by everyday people as the story of the crisis develops. There were many whose biggest concerns appeared to be completely irrelevant to the impending disaster such as the on-again-off-again relationship of popstar Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) and DJ Chello (Kid Cudi). Ultimately it is entirely possible for people to be interested in the lives of celebrities while informed of current events. This can manifest itself as a cult-like following with earnest dedication, or simply a means of distraction and a bit of entertainment from our otherwise dull or depressing lives. It was clear that many people were angry, afraid and in disbelief with the handling of this discovery, with little more to be done aside from waiting to be told what to do by those in charge. Even world-renowned climate activist Greta Thunberg follows a number of celebrities on Instagram including Miley Cyrus and Billie Eilish. This absolutely doesn’t take away from the phenomenal impact she has had as one person. Sometimes, we all just need a distraction, which Hollywood has in spades.
As a whole, Don’t Look Up tells an unfortunately familiar story of a catastrophic prediction backed by consistent scientific evidence and the individuals who choose to ignore this imminent reality as opposed to, at the very least, mitigate the near certain outcome. The frustration felt by those with an understanding of the dire nature of what lies ahead is palpable to an audience aware of current events. The hints of satire up until the bitter end serve as a reminder of the strength humor can provide in even the bleakest of outcomes. Most importantly, despite any individual’s stature or current social relevance, we are all hanging onto the hope that those with the relevant decision making authority do in fact know what they are doing.
Don’t Look Up is now streaming on Netflix.