Don’t Look Up: An Allegory for Climate Change & COVID
A review of the Netflix original "Don't Look Up"
February 20, 2022
Shock. Anxiety. Dismay. Numbness. Netflix’s new film Don’t Look Up left me in a hopeless state of existential dread due to its obvious allusions to the impending climate crisis. The rapid cuts from over-the-top satire to unsettling messages about the harsh realities of our future really made the movie more consumable and not just a representation of the bleak realities of our imminent future. However, it also added a sense of urgency that’s critical to the plot of Don’t Look Up.
The story follows PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her adviser Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) as they discover a comet that will destroy Earth and cause human extinction in six months if not handled properly. When they bring their findings to President Orlean (Meryl Streep), the two are met with immediate indifference and apathy. In an attempt to bring attention to this looming issue, Dr. Mindy and Kate leak the information to the press. Eventually, President Orlean realizes the severity of this issue and organizes a mission to destroy the comet. In the middle of this mission, however, billionaire CEO of BASH Industries Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) interrupts with “urgent” information: there are precious, lucrative minerals on the comet. This event leaves the nation in division.
Don’t Look Up highlights that true power lies in the hands of high profile individuals—the general public has little to no control over what happens, even though they are likely to be affected the most.”
Adam McKay did a fantastic job creating a metaphor for climate change in Don’t Look Up. The themes in this film could even be applied to situations today regarding COVID-19, despite McKay’s initial intentions: it perfectly captured the urgency of the general public on the comet issue and the lack of interest from influential political and business figures. Don’t Look Up also highlights that true power lies in the hands of high profile individuals—the general public has little to no control over what happens, even though they are likely to be affected the most. Even the current pandemic embodies this idea as most of the working class is suffering through the loss of jobs while the wealthy live comfortably and sometimes even thrive. In addition, these powerful figures will do anything for wealth; they’ll even risk the entire population of the Earth, showing the selfishness and corruption of the wealthy elite, as recently seen in the pandemic through the uneven distributions of the vaccine across high and low income countries. Areas with higher income generally receive priority and easier access to vaccines, giving yet another advantage to the wealthy.
Though some argued that the film was too over-the-top and overwhelming in its messages, I thought that the satirical elements stood out more when the characters and situations were more exaggerated. And by bringing in renowned actors and actresses, people are more likely to pay attention to this movie, and indirectly, the climate crisis.
However, though bringing in elite actors and actresses can bring awareness to climate change, it does seem ironic that some of these actors and actresses play individuals in the general public, who actually have to worry about issues such as climate change. But in reality, elites like these stars are unlikely to feel the effects of climate change. This is the case with many celebrities—even those who advocate for climate issues—such as Leonardo DiCaprio. Ironically, he preaches environmental protection but clearly doesn’t follow his own advice when he’s partying on a yacht or frequently traveling via private jet.
Overall, Adam McKay’s satire Don’t Look Up was an enjoyable watch despite the reminders of the climate crisis and the uneasy feelings that came with them. But if you didn’t like the movie as much as I did, at least you got to see Timothée Chalamet declare his love for fingerling potatoes.