Did you feel personally attacked by dark comedy film Don’t Look Up? Same—and rightly so.
The film points out several major flaws in the functioning of society as we know it, though it does so under the guise of a fictional apocalyptic comet, discovered by a renowned astronomer and PhD candidate, headed straight for Earth. Featuring a star-studded cast including Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett and more, it’s a hard one to gloss over in Netflix’s newly released line-up.
But the bringing together of such an elite Hollywood crew was no coincidence—yes, it’s a brilliant comedy that’s entertaining in its own right, but Don’t Look Up has a much deeper meaning, and for some, that hits like a ton of bricks (kudos to director Adam McKay and co-writer David Sirota).
So what exactly does McKay, Sirota, DiCaprio, Lawrence and every other person who put this film together really want to tell us? Scroll on as we unpack it all.
What happens in Don’t Look Up?
At the beginning of the film, we’re introduced to a world not unlike our own today. Tabloid media hounds celebrities, people are glued to social media, an A-List breakup makes front page news—sound familiar?
We cut to astronomy PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) who is doing some research using the Subaru Telescope when she discovers a comet in close proximity to planet Earth. It’s moving fast, and she immediately alerts her professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) who escalates it to NASA. Within the next 10 minutes, it becomes clear the comet is large enough to cause an extinction event.
The pair are then sent to the White House where they meet with the President of the United States Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) who brushes off their panicked warning. What follows is a series of frustrating, and at-times unbelievable, attempts from Dibiasky and Mindy to alert the world to this apocalyptic comet. They beg for air time, they insist the event could be delayed, if not avoided if the world acts, but in the interim, famous pop star Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) has split up with her boyfriend, and the world is far too preoccupied with that.
What happens at the end of Don’t Look Up?
Towards the end of the film, Mindy, Dibiasky and the rest of the world finally catch a glimpse of the comet as it hurtles towards them from outer space. It’s at this point that people realise just how real this threat is. Soon after, it becomes evident that it’s now too late to do anything about it. The comet hits and destroys Earth in a haunting slow-motion scene.
President Orlean manages to escape on a spaceship funded by tech billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) where they are subsequently frozen. The film’s final scene reveals their ship landing on another planet far into the future. The occupants are unfrozen and disembark fully naked (for the record, Meryl Streep’s bare ass does, in fact, belong to a body double), but a tall ostrich-like creature attacks Orlean, presumably killing her.
What does Don’t Look Up actually mean?
While the film is extremely satiric in its nature, it does provide a scarily realistic portrayal of humankind’s tendency to push difficult-to-swallow truths that cannot necessarily be seen tangibly in favour of easily detachable drama.
In Don’t Look Up, the comet presumably represents what scientists have been warning us about for years: Climate change. Across humankind (and particularly within our governments) there’s often an alarming sense of oblivion at the real challenges it will pose down the track. Yes, everything seems hunky dory now, but it won’t be like this forever—and right now is crunch time—it’s time to act.
Of course, there are movements in the space. The Paris Agreement had all the makings of a sustainable framework that could have a major impact on the pace of global warming (its key objectives are to keep the Earth’s temperature rise below 2 degrees, and to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050), but as we all witnessed at the most recent COP26 summit, many countries are falling short of meeting these targets—it remains to be seen if governments will actually enact such policies to make this viable.
And then, there’s the other element of how climate change performs in mainstream media compared to, say, an A-list breakup. While sustainability and the environment is a common topic of conversation, there’s no denying that often it’s a Hollywood scandal that tends to get the cut-through—and that’s what mainstream tabloid media focusses on.
Ironically, Don’t Look Up stars one of the key faces in the Climate Change movement (who isn’t a scientist, that is)—Leonardo DiCaprio. The actor is renowned for using his platform to drive awareness and to inspire change in the way humans react to its effects. And it’s him, more than anyone else in the film that really drives the true message home.
Because in that final scene where the Earth is crumbling in slow motion, it’s almost as though the fourth wall is removed when his character Mindy utters his final words, which were a suggestion from DiCaprio himself: “We really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, if you think about it.”
That pretty much sums it up.
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