‘Don’t Look Up’ is an entertaining film that is rich with cultural critique

Any student who has taken even the most entry-levels of astronomy classes can take away a few things for certain: courses in astronomy should not be mistaken for astrology upon registration, mathematical calculations make up a great component of astronomical study and breakthroughs in the study of the vast outer space beyond our planet occur daily. “Don’t Look Up” is the latest Netflix production — currently the No.1 film on the streaming platform — which centers the efforts of astronomy doctoral candidate, Kate Dibiasky, and her professor at Michigan State University, Dr. Randall Mindy. They aim to publicize their discovery that a “planet-killing” comet is on course to collide with Earth in six months time. 

After calculating the trajectory of the mass in outer space, the main protagonists, played by Academy Award winning actors Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, send information directly upwards to the oval office. The fictitious presidential administration for Madam President Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, expresses their concern with the timing of the news as they consider how it might impact their standing in the upcoming midterm elections. Issues with a nominated Supreme Court candidate take precedence over the news of imminent danger to public safety.

Courtesy of Netflix

The parallels to present-day America are blatant. In a culture of performative political correctness, Dibiasky and Dr. Mindy embark on a media tour to describe the catastrophic events that might occur should authority figures fail to take preventative action. Social media reactions explode as news of the comet is made public and the film begins its exploration of a country in division.  

Director Adam McKay noted in an interview that the process of writing the script for “Don’t Look Up” began in late 2019, before the height of hysteria as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. As reactionary movements and denial of the virus’ existence have pervaded popular discourse and corporate media platforms over the last two years, McKay described having to return to the script to exaggerate the script’s characters and online reaction even more for the satirical elements in the screenplay to land. 

Seemingly absurd spectacles picked up by algorithms on social media and pushed by news outlets to distract the public from the danger associated with Comet Dibiasky, named after the Ph.D. candidate who discovered it, create a sense of bitter familiarity while viewing the Netflix film. 

Ariana Grande and Scott Mescudi, also known as Kid Cudi, make an appearance as the fictional pop star couple whose tumultuous relationship takes center stage in audience engagement. Later in the film, they perform a political number to encourage disbelievers and deniers of the comet’s existence to “Just Look Up” and see for themselves. Amid the discourse, hyper capitalist Sir Peter Isherwell devises a proposal to use technology his fictional corporation, BASH, has developed to obliterate the comet in outer space to mine the rock for minerals, depreciating resources found on Earth.

Consumerism and political agendas displayed on-screen are juxtaposed with breathtaking shots of hummingbirds, bees, ants crawling on leaves and views of Earth from space. A daunting score underlies the danger that awaits every inhabitant of the planet as the human race continues to politicize scientific research. As BASH entities introduce their new technology to American political actors, Madam President Orlean can be seen lighting a cigarette against a red-lettered sign which reads “Flammable.” 

An all-star cast rounds out the success of the 2021 film. Jennifer Lawrence brings to life the narrative of a casual drug-using, post-undergraduate student with a mullet as she navigates jumping through the metaphorical hoops of professionalism and conservatism on a national scale. The frustration from lead actor Leonardo DiCaprio is undeniably a derivative of his real-life efforts to raise awareness on climate change, all the while being used for memes across the internet. 

DiCaprio received his first Academy Award for best actor at the 88th Oscars ceremony, recognizing his work on the film “The Revenant” (2015). In his speech, he described the film as “man’s relationship to the natural world.” He recalls having to film at the southern tip of the globe in order to find adequate snow and low temperature environments to film during the summer, which reached the hottest recorded temperatures in history at the time. Over six years following the release of the aforementioned film, climate changes have still gone largely overlooked by political actors in the contemporary world ripe with media distractions. 

“Don’t Look Up” veers from the ending Hollywood has framed for end-of-the-world disaster films. “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” (2012) focuses on mass hysteria with the plot’s final twist creating a hoax for its characters to live with the consequences of their actions. “2012” (2010) takes a deep dive into widespread natural disaster’s effect on human structures with thousands of survivors conveniently landing safely in Africa. DiCaprio stated simply, he would not have taken part in this film if it had included a typical Hollywood ending. 

Verdict: Stunning montage of nature and A-list actors equipped with excellent comedic timing create an outrageous, yet unnervingly realistic cinematic world and elevate the viewing experience of “Don’t Look Up.”

 

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