‘Don’t Look Up’ is the wake-up call we need


‘Don’t Look Up’ movie poster; it was initially released on December 5th, and released on Netflix on December 24th.

Deepa Gautam, Staff Writer

Adam McKay’s new Netflix movie Don’t Look Up has continued to climb the charts following its release on Christmas Eve, becoming the second most-watched Netflix movie of all time, behind Red Notice. This snarky, star-studded comedic satire delivers powerful commentary on the consequences of neglecting a global crisis. Its impressive cast, paired with a compelling message and humorous delivery, turn it into a film truly worth watching. 

Don’t Look Up begins when young Ph.D. student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), make an alarming discovery; a large comet is heading straight for Earth. With the help of NASA’s Dr. Orglethorp (Tom Morgan), the two desperately, and unsuccessfully, attempt to warn the public of the impending apocalypse headed their way. Whether the pair take their message to the White House or commit to several media appearances, their words fall on the deaf ears of a society that prefers distraction over reality. 

As matter of fact, the president of the United States, Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), is more concerned with winning her upcoming election than forming an emergency response, and her son, the underqualified Chief of Staff  Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill) is just as incompetent. Even the media, embodied by an upbeat show called The Daily Rip, is more interested in sensationalizing celebrity gossip and cracking jokes than relaying the news properly. Moreso, the public is too wrapped in pop star Riley Bina’s (Ariana Grande) break-up to face the threat of an extinction-level event. 

Many of the caricatures, although exaggerated, were brought to life and bore striking resemblance to the real world, especially in the wake of the pandemic. For instance, profit-oriented tech overlord Peter Isherwall (Mark Rylance) embodied the traits of real-world billionaires, such as Mark Zuckerburg or Steve Jobs. Conflict arose when Isherwell puts humanity at risk in hopes of profiting from the comet’s precious rocks, and his cold, insincere presence hits close to home. Overall, characters like him helped reinforce the film’s criticism of people in power for putting profit over human lives and global crises such as climate change.  

At times, it can be unsettling to watch how the film seems to perfectly capture the chaos and divisions of our times. This uncomfortable aspect of the film, however, is purely intentional, as it hopes to spark discussions about global issues and encourage viewers to reconsider their inaction. McKay had originally written the film prior to the pandemic and intended to employ the meteor as a metaphor for the growing climate crisis and depict society’s lackluster response.

In light of rising COVID-19 cases and the Omicron variant, however, it wasn’t hard to also draw parallels between the characters’ reactions to the comet and society’s reaction to COVID-19.

In both worlds, as soon as a crisis strikes, politicians fail to act, rampant societal science denial overrides scientific studies, and powerful figures just can’t seem to put aside their personal interests for the greater good. At the end of the day, the movie seems to be less of a hypothetical scenario than a realistic portrayal of the reality we are facing, which truly helps turn the film into a powerful, sophisticated piece of work worth a watch. 

The biggest struggle I have with the film is its length, which clocks in at two hours and 25 minutes. After the first hour, the story becomes slightly tedious with its repetitive jokes and on-the-nose satire. To add on, the film strayed off course at times,  riddled with unnecessary plot lines that added less to the film and more the run time. Dr. Mindy’s short-lived affair with Daily Rip co-host and his reaction to acceptance by the media, for instance, felt skippable as the plotline seemed to drag on for far longer than it should have.

The plot’s messiness also originated from the broad list of institutions the film attempts to satirize; targeting everything from the media and government to pop culture and social media. The film would have benefited from sharper, more gradual satire that had a special focus on a specific institution. The editing style didn’t help much, with its abrupt cuts and off-putting freeze frames, which often felt random and took a while to settle into. The inclusion of short clips of nature, for instance, attempts to show that more than humans are at stake with the approaching comet but felt random and interfered with the flow.

As expected in a cast packed with Oscar winners and stars, the film redeems itself with its excellent acting. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence keep the audience engaged with their chemistry and brilliant portrayals of two emotional, realistic, and socially-awkward characters. 

Meryl Streep does an excellent job embracing a pompous, self-obsessed President Orleans, while Jonah Hill’s character acts as a critique of nepotism in the government, and simultaneously provides much-needed comedic relief, with snarky one-liners and allusions to real-life figures. Ariana Grande’s ballad with Kid Cudi, “Just Look Up”, is a somewhat catchy and fitting addition to depict the realities of pop culture, and Timothée Chalamet’s edgy teenage character, Yule, offers vulnerability and depth in the emotional final act.

If you enjoy meaningful satire and compelling comedy, or McKay’s earlier works such as The Big Short or The Other Guys, Don’t Look Up is a must-watch. Even for those new to satire or science-fiction, the film is an exciting and impactful introduction with some of Hollywood’s biggest stars. 

As a whole, the movie brings various talents together to deliver a delightful, thought-provoking satire, reflecting on society’s unwillingness to take action. Yes, it’s a bit longer than it should be, and the satire isn’t exactly subtle, but the emotional roller coaster eventually comes together in a raw, meaningful, and bitter-sweet final scene. It’s a refreshing cautionary tale, encouraging us to listen to the Dr. Mindys and Kates of the world; to look up and take action before it’s too late.