OPINION: ‘Don’t Look Up’: A commentary on self-destruction | Critical Conversations
Have seen “Don’t look up” it is to have loved or hated it.
Netflix’s highly anticipated and star-studded film, released on December 24, 2021, found itself in an odd position, straddling the fence between ecstatic praise and outright hate.
The premise of the film is quite strong: Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her mentor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), discover a comet hurtling directly towards Earth, whose impact is predicted in six months and 14 days.
As Dibiasky, Mindy, and their colleague Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) attempt to warn humanity of the impending extinction-level event, they are met with smiles and laughter from the media, mockery of the public and the indifference of the president. of the United States, which subsequently denies the existence of the comet in the name of the upcoming midterm elections.
After President Orlean (Meryl Streep) finds it politically convenient, she recognizes the comet and announces plans for a deflecting mission. Just minutes after launching the mission, Orlean calls it off at the request of one of his wealthiest campaign donors – billionaire tech mogul Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) of BASH Cellular – who claims the comet contains rare elements vital for the technology industry.
Orlean and Isherwell announce a plan to shatter the comet instead using BASH drones, allowing some 30 small pieces to hit Earth to be collected after impact, all released to the public under the guise of creating jobs.
Having lost faith in Orleans and Isherwell’s plan due to the lack of peer-reviewed science, Dibiasky and Mindy coin the phrase “Just Look Up” once the comet can be seen from Earth, pleading people to realize that the president is putting their lives on the line in order to “drive up the shares of a mobile phone company”. Orlean and her Trump-esque supporters — those who believe she’s lying that the comet will be good for everyone — respond with their own antithetical motto “Don’t look up.”
Six months later, the untested BASH drones fail and the comet hits Earth with full force. Oglethorpe, Dibiasky and her new boyfriend Yule (Timothée Chalamet) accompany Mindy as he returns home to his family in Michigan. They are all killed as they sit together around the dinner table, the house collapsing around them.
The division that “Don’t Look Up” has caused in the circles of film critics and audiences is quite ironic given that a major plot point is the political division caused by the comet. While I agree with many of the issues others have pointed out – the cinematography was chaotic, the plot got a little muddled mid-stream, and the gender-swapping of a president clearly meant to portray Trump was a misstep – I’d say the movie’s message is actually quite thoughtful and clever.
“Don’t Look Up”beyond its satire on the nose, is a film about self-destruction.
The mass extinction of billions of lives, human or otherwise, was an entirely preventable event when the film began – six months notice with the next clear step of deviation? No problem. It was only when concerns about political power and capitalist interests got in the way that the solution became convoluted.
While the movie is certainly meant to be an allegory for climate change, it’s not the only problem we face that is susceptible to these poisons.
“There are many different issues we face in society that could replace the comet,” said P. Sean McDonald, associate professor at the College of the Environment. “I think COVID, for starters; I don’t think we’ve done a very good job of dealing with this crisis. It may not be a comet, but certainly all the same characteristics are there.
The creation of sustainable societies, decolonization, abolition, social justice, demilitarization, class consciousness, a genuine response to the pandemic, and general human well-being are all severely hampered and impeded by the pursuit and abuse of political power and capitalist exploitation.
The unquenchable thirst that is human ambition will destroy us. Whether that destruction comes in the form of a comet, climate change, nuclear war, or a mismanaged pandemic is irrelevant. If our species continues in the same direction we are going – to seek infinite growth, perpetuate overconsumption and build a plutocracy – we will bring about the end of ourselves. The question that “Don’t Look Up” wants us to examine is this: does society have to collapse in order for it to change?
Like most Hollywood productions that attempt to tackle contemporary issues, especially those in which Hollywood itself is complicit, “Don’t Look Up” doesn’t answer that question – it doesn’t belong.
“I don’t know if a movie like this has to think so critically about it,” McDonald said. “It has to make us think about the issues…I like that it makes us think about our priorities.”
McDonald’s words recall one of the last lines of “Don’t Look Up” spoken by Mindy as the house shakes and the lights flicker just before the comet hits.
“We really had everything, didn’t we? I mean, when you think about it.
Today we have everything. But if those in power continue their quest for even more, we will all be left with nothing.
Contact writer Sydney Lyman at [email protected] Twitter: @syddlyman
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