Review: Don’t Look Up (2021)

Don’t Look Up (2021)

Directed by: Adam McKay | 138 minutes | comedy, drama | Actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, Timothée Chalamet, Ron Perlman, Ariana Grande, Kid Cudi, Himesh Patel, Melanie Lynskey, Michael Chiklis, Tomer Sisley, Paul Guilfoyle

The earth is warming. Top climate scientists around the world are trying to urge world leaders and governments to take action to combat climate change. However, sometimes it seems that the seriousness of this is not taken as serious. It is even denied by some. Climate change is also often politicized by putting political agendas above the public interest. When David Sirota, co-writer of the script, told writer and director Adam McKay that it looks like a comet is on its way to Earth, it will destroy all life and nobody cares, the idea for ‘Don’t Look Up’ was born.
Adam McKay became known for his collaboration with Will Ferrell which resulted in ‘Anchorman’, ‘Talladega Nights’ and ‘The Other Guys’. He has a background in comedy, and with ‘Don’t Look Up’ he portrayed the absurdity of American society with painful precision. The fact that this film is crammed with well-known film stars and award winners is of course a bonus.

Two astronomers, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discover that a comet will collide with Earth in just over six months. It is evident that this is an extinction-level event (ELE) where life on Earth is largely destroyed. It should not be difficult to communicate the seriousness of this to the world. In fact, it should be hard not to let this news leak out. Mainly because of the apocalyptic nature of this event. However, nothing could be further from the truth. Randall and Kate do what anyone would do in their situation: call the highest authority. In this case, it is none other than the President of the United States, President Orlean (Meryl Streep). They are flown in a special army plane to the center of power of America, The White House. When they finally get to speak to President Orlean, after a long wait and with great difficulty, the reaction is anything but what they expected.

We think back to the films ‘Deep Impact (1998)’ and ‘Armageddon (1998)’ where the response is taken with due seriousness and everything is immediately pulled out to avert this danger to humanity. In this case, however, President Orlean is not directly thinking of protecting humanity from certain destruction. She doesn’t even look concerned. What she is concerned about are the consequences of this news on her political career. And so an absurd scenario unfolds of how a simple, clear and very important message (destruction of all life) is constantly twisted and trivialized, as long as it remains fun. Social media is the new religion and everything is changing. Even impending death gets wrapped up in hashtags and MEMEd about it. And so the film embodies what is aptly described as ‘distraction culture’. People don’t want to hear bad news and everything everyday is reduced to entertaining and tantalizing news bites that don’t disturb the comfortable complacency of the masses. All our lines of communication are exploited and manipulated into something mundane and trivial.

‘Don’t Look Up’ would of course be worthless without the shoulders that the film has to carry. Leonardo DiCaprio, as Dr. Randall Mindy, masterfully plays his role as a nervous, panicked and confused astronomer. At the same time, his character is a nice contrast to that of Jennifer Lawrence as the uncompromising rebel, Kate Dibiasky, who can’t imagine the fast-approaching doom being reduced to a number three news item on any morning program. She is the embodiment of sound human reason that cannot comprehend the backwardness of a media-obsessed society.

In the digital world, the influence of the human-alienated social media billionaires cannot be left out. These were merged spot-on into the character Peter Isherwell by Mark Rylance. Top actors are not just top actors and Mark Rylance, from whom we are not used to such roles, shows that his acting spectrum is broader than we thought. Meryl Streep, as President Orlean, portrays the self-obsessed nature of the general American politician with seasoned ease. With Trumpian rhetoric (perhaps a contradiction in terms), she uses the threat to her political campaign. Jonah Hill, as Jason Orlean, President Orlean’s son and Chief of Staff, also adds to the pile of banalities. It is a pleasure to watch the interplay of these masterful actors. The cast is completed by Ron Perlman, Timothée Chalamet and Ariana Grande, each contributing in their own unique way to this hymn of folly.

If an alien has seen “Don’t Look Up,” the picture it forms of American society (and a little bit of the world too) is pretty close to the truth. While the film is sometimes over-the-top with our follies, reality is always stranger than fiction. As a lab technician, Adam McKay has isolated the essence of society and cast it in the form of comedy and satire. The film is hilarious because the mirror it holds up to us reflects the truth about ourselves. While we agree with the movie, we agree with our own ridiculousness. And this is the power of ‘Don’t Look Up’. Oscar Wilde once said that the world burns the books it shows its own immorality. While this film certainly won’t end up burned at the stake (anything but), it did manage to expose a part of our character. It is up to us to do something with this.
Or not.

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