Or, an encapsulation
I went into Netflix’s Don’t Look Up expecting to be made very angry. I knew what it was about, and I knew what it was meant to represent.
Instead, as I watched, I experienced a mix of déjà vu and deep fatigue. This was an only slightly factionalized version of what was playing out before the eyes of all human beings every day at this point. This was a documentary, with the usually-antithetical advantage that it could be viewed in real time.
Almost everyone who’s anyone is in this movie. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play, respectively, an astronomer and PhD candidate who find that the trajectory of a certain comet coincides directly with the Earth’s coordinates, and that it is set to hit in just over six months. And that’s at the beginning. (Last I checked, we had five years, not six months. Not that that’s any more time.) Their subsequent catapult onto the world stage in an attempt to convey the direness of the circumstances brings them onto their own collision course with President Meryl Streep, Anarchist Stoner Timothée Chalamet, and Even-More-of-a-Pop-Star Ariana Grande, among others. As in life, some take the news seriously from the start, others resist—you can guess which side takes up the titular rallying cry—and there are dramatic reactions and memes galore; but no amount of belief or disbelief alters the fact (yes, the fact) that the comet is coming.
And it does. The end of the film is the planet and all life on it being obliterated by the comet, with two exceptions: 1) a ship ushering the billionaire class to safety light-years away; and 2) the unfortunate survival of the character I most wanted to kill the whole time, the president’s son/chief of staff, played by Jonah Hill (who, might I add, is very good at playing characters you want to kill).
People sense the end coming. It’s a bit like Titanic: there comes a point where the inevitable is just impossible to ignore. Interesting, fascinating even, and then terrifying. At first it’s a streak across the sky that compels drivers to leave their cars for a better glimpse, then not too long afterward it’s a rumbling in the table settings as those same people pray to a God they don’t know.
What writer-director Adam McKay wants to communicate to us—aside from “What the fuck is going on?”, the question to which he famously dedicated 2015’s The Big Short and 2018’s Vice, and to which this film is arguably the long-awaited threequel—is that we, in our age of climate crisis and political deaf-blindness, are somewhere between a streak across the sky and a seismic breach of the atmosphere. In all likelihood, closer to the latter.
Just go watch it. If for no other reason than to hear Ariana croon “listen to the goddamn qualified scientists” in her velvety low register. That alone makes it worthwhile. And, you know, the world.
Image: Leo & J-Law, Niko Tavernise/AP