We’re all going to die, but tell us something we don’t know: a review of “Don’t Look Up”

“Maybe the destruction of the entire planet isn’t supposed to be fun.” 

This line, said by Jennifer Lawrence’s character in the Netflix hit Don’t Look Up, is unintentionally ironic. Adam McKay’s 2021 comedy portrays the lack of effort to save Earth as humorous, offering viewers that plot and nothing more. 

As a result, McKay’s satire of superficial society relies too much on a star-studded cast and caricatures, becoming the very thing it mocks. 

The film draws out a tone of urgency created by Ph.D. candidate Kate (Jennifer Lawrence), who discovers a comet heading towards Earth. Her professor, Dr. Mindy (Leonardo Dicaprio), calculates it will cause a planet-wide extinction in six months. Most scenes show them trying to warn the unfazed public; U.S. President (Meryl Streep) who gives the hilarious response of “sit back and assess”; morning show hosts (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry) who make light of the situation; and so on. 

It’s not until the President has a scandal that her administration comes up with a comet diversion plan to save her image. The mission is called off when an outlandish billionaire, played by Mark Rylance with unnerving accuracy, advises the White House to profit from the comet’s rare elements. All the while, some people are convinced the comet is a hoax and social media is flooded with memes making fun of Kate.

McKay’s real mistake with Don’t Look Up was gathering all the A-list actors he could find instead of developing his characters. If only he did, then the film would resonate with viewers as more than a compilation of funny but realistic, or exaggerated scenes, depending on their social beliefs. 

After all, the concept is relevant, drawing parallels to real life such as companies who destroy the environment to earn profit and Trump’s infamous claim that climate change is a Chinese hoax. What McKay fails to consider is that these topics, along with similar ideas, have already been discussed to death by mainstream media. 

The general public is more than aware of the greed that motivates the one per cent and divides that emerge in the face of disaster — the anti-vax movement, for instance, is rampant. How does Don’t Look Up add to the conversation? What realities does it present that the average viewer doesn’t already know? 

Spoiler alert —- it doesn’t. The film’s villains, from the President to wealthy CEO, are flat characters who serve the sole purpose of making viewers angry or amused. They’re certainly accurate depictions, but there’s no insight on their motivations other than greed. Had McKay explored the elite’s tendency to view themselves as invincible —- or the comfort some people find in denial —- beyond punchlines, then his work would’ve been cause for reflection. 

Since he stuck to surface level portrayals, the film comes across as an attack on real life equivalents of its villains that, while completely justified, is unlikely to cause reflection on their mistakes and more likely to result in defensiveness. How can we bridge divides and elicit change from the ignorant if we don’t show them any understanding at all? 

The film humanizes characters who believe in the comet; Kate as the voice of reason, Dr. Mindy as a socially anxious man with faltering values who Dicaprio nails and Yule (Timothée Chalamet), a loveable skater who provides comfort. 

Without adding the same depth to comet disbelievers and selfish characters, the film merely shines a spotlight on the already exposed foolishness of science deniers, political figures and the wealthy.

According to McKay, this divide is intentional. “I actually think it’s really good that people should be fighting and passionate about [the film].” While entertaining, debates over Don’t Look Up add more fuel to conflicts between different social groups, denying any possibility for real progress. 

Don’t Look Up is a simple and cartoonish depiction of complex issues, risking the danger of being just another movie to watch for laughs.

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