I saw a film on Netflix last night that I just have to write about and I have to write about it now. I think it’s accurate enough to call it a dramedy but it has elements of suspense, science fiction and satire as well. The cast is outstanding, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Cate Blanchett, Rob Morgan and others who would extend this already long sentence much too far, but who are nonetheless worthy of mention. I felt compelled to move this article to the front of the line if only because of its relevance to this particular time in our country’s and our planet’s history.
“Don’t Look Up” is a film that presents a doomsday scenario and explores how it might be dealt with in today’s socio-political environment. A doctorate candidate at Michigan State, played by Lawrence, is working one night in the Astronomy Department when she discovers a previously unknown comet. The professor, DiCaprio’s character, and other members of their small team are gathered to obtain more data on the comet. They soon discover its trajectory will bring it into a direct hit of Earth. Its size will result in an extinction event. Everyone on earth will die if the comet is not somehow diverted or destroyed. The authorities are alerted. Dr. Mindy (DiCaprio), Kate Dibiasky (Lawrence) and Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe of NASA (Morgan), are summoned to Washington for an urgent meeting with President Orlean (Streep).
Stirring the Plot
The President has her doubts about the science and her Chief of Staff who also happens to be her son, played by Hill, seems more concerned about Dibiasky’s personality than what she has to say. When the government’s scientists confirm the impending catastrophe, it’s treated as an opportunity for political gain. A show is made of taking out the comet. Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky (for whom the comet is named) are the spokespersons for the government and are low-ranking guests on a talk show where the hosts make light of the disastrous scene laid out on their mindless program. Dibiasky loses her cool, screaming everyone is going to die, for which she is ridiculed immediately and in the weeks following on social media memes.
A plan is developed for the United States to blow the comet apart with nuclear warheads before it hurtles in close enough to cause any harm to our world. Unfortunately, a technology mogul whose business savvy is greater than his common sense determines there are trillions of dollars to be made by mining the comet and he presents a plan to break up the comet into many small pieces that would land harmlessly on our terrestrial lands. The President loves the idea and turns around the mission before the space shuttles are out of sight.
Parody of the Bizarre
What follows is a sequence of events involving the President and the populous both humorous and disturbing. It holds up a mirror to the state of our world in these strange times. The lure of riches as well as benefits for humanity based on optimistic but unproven technology bring euphoria to many. Doubters of the astronomical prediction which is undeniable choose to claim there is no comet. Meanwhile, the social media circus continues with its creative commentary on personalities and theories for the fringe. All the while, the citizens of Planet Earth are true to form, acting selfishly and irresponsibly in the face of extinction. A movement telling people not to look up gains traction. Denial of the truth is in full bloom.
In a story so serious which is treated satirically, actors are challenged to walk a fine line between the ridiculous and the sublime. DiCaprio played his role particularly well, ranging from the respected professor through the nervous messenger to the voice of calm and reason. Streep was suitably superficial as a shallow politician, self-serving and narcissistic. Lawrence transcends from the smart grad student who makes the discovery to the blunt and even frantic spokesperson whose screaming public indignation makes her the famous butt of jokes. Telling it like it is, being perhaps the most realistic character, she is given the least credibility by those she is trying to save. Hill did a great job portraying a snarky, entitled Chief of Staff who had no legitimate credentials for the post he held.
There are a few minor reasons not to like “Don’t Look Up.” I thought I was getting a pure, serious disaster movie. Additionally, It was frustrating to see the illogical polarization of today’s society in a scenario with clearly proven dire circumstances. Watching the main characters submit to disappointing behavior at times was difficult to watch. However, this film was strong because of the captivating premise, the outstanding cast and the social commentary. The title says it all really. Hide from the truth at all costs. It’s just life that’s at stake.