Satire or sage warning?

January 9, 2022

Don’t Look Up ruffles feathers as it depicts an extinction level event that could have been avoided through a joint effort

Satire or sage warning?

Don’t Look Up is a satirical movie directed by Adam McKay. Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Cate Blanchett, the movie has caused quite a stir with its release on Netflix due to its plot, and the way it imitates life.

The movie portrays the US as a ‘clout’ hungry, celebrity-obsessed society in the future, where politics is a mere popularity contest, leading to inaction regarding an extinction level event. There is a comet that looks close to wiping out the earth. The crisis bear parallels to the current predicament of climate change. This has resulted in climate change deniers ‘review bombing’ the film on sites like Rotten Tomatoes.

The story follows Dr Randall Mindy, played by Leonardo Dicaprio. He tries to present compelling evidence that a comet will destroy the earth in six months and fourteen days, with the probability of human extinction at 99.78 percent, to the US president. Meryl Streep as President Janie Orlean refuses to take his concerns seriously, being more concerned about the upcoming election and the release of her boyfriend’s inappropriate pictures. She has nominated him as a Supreme Court judge. She dismisses the warning, saying, “Call it 70 percent and let’s move on.”

As Dr Mindy tries to convince everyone that the comet is a major cause for concern, he falls victim to one of the gravest sins one can commit in a shallow society: he lacks flash. Using statistics and empirical evidence gets him nowhere as people portrayed in the movie can only respond to false appearances, money and good looks. While the president engages in divisive narratives, nepotism (her son is her actual chief of staff) and undermining of facts just because she knows how the game is played, Dr Mindy suffers as he doesn’t know how to pander to a brainwashed audience that is more concerned with sensationalism than the world itself ending.

Don’t Look Up is satire done well. It really does follow the cliche of ‘art imitates life’, which is most likely why it has elicited such a strong response from climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers, as it turns their ridiculous ideas into even more ridiculous, but true to life, caricature.

Dicaprio’s character follows a predictable trajectory. First he is infuriated and panicked about not being taken seriously; then he accepts that he isn’t what the media wants him to be. He gets a physical and behavioural makeover through a change in appearance and media coaching, eventually becoming a younger Bill Nye the Science Guy-esque figure to appeal to the masses. He begins to mingle with ‘high society’ and has an adulterous affair with an extremely popular TV host named Brie, played by Cate Blanchett. His colleague, Kate Dibiasky (played by Jennifer Lawrence) follows a different, less glamorous path. Instead of giving herself a complete overhaul like Dr Mindy, she goes from concerned to apathetic as she accepts that people no longer care about facts and scientific evidence, even if they pertain to an extinction level event that will wipe them out.

Things deteriorate further as Sir Peter Irshwell, played by Mark Rylance, attempts to turn the end of the world into a profitable venture. Irshwell’s character is a satirical representation of billionaires such as Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, who are more concerned with exploring space than helping the planet that they actually reside on. Irshwell is more concerned with mining the rare materials in the comet than destroying it.

Towards the end of the movie, the president, Irshwell and a few other elites are boarding a ship with cryogenic chambers that will leave earth to look for a habitable planet. Before leaving, President Orlean offers Mindy two spaces on the ship. He declines. He chooses to spend the end of the world with his chosen family instead. Since his wife has left him, as has his mistress, he reconciles with Dibiasky. The earth is destroyed. Several years later, the elites land on a habitable planet. They leave the ship, naked and in awe, only to witness an alien creature attack and kill Irshwell.

Don’t Look Up is satire done well. It really does follow the cliche of ‘art imitates life’, which is most likely why it has elicited such a strong response from climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers. It turns their ridiculous ideas into an even more ridiculous, but true to life, caricatures. It also threatens the fantasies of billionaire fan-boys who think corporations have their best interests at heart when it is rather obvious that they don’t. The movie is not for the faint of brain. However, if you enjoy satire that is close to reality, Don’t Look Up is available to watch on Netflix.

The author is a staff member.

Satire or sage warning?