Staring No. 1 film on Netflix for several days in a row, the climate change satire Don’t Look Up has granted a spot on the mainstream narrative. Portraying a corrupt government, a dormant media, and a public captive of the online world, the apocalyptic comedy movie featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence continues to divide critics.
In a vibrant metaphor illustrating the way world leaders are dealing with climate change, the film has a critics’ score of 56% on Rotten Tomatoes, mirroring the strong divisions in how people have perceived it. Its audience score sits at 77% yet Don’t Look Up is still buzzing on social media narrative. Some viewers have called it this generation’s “Dr. Strangelove”, a satire about nuclear war by Stanley Kubrick, while others are astonished by its insistence on cloaking political and social clashes in dark humor.
1. Break the ice
Either way, the explosive discourse coming out from the movie shows that people around the world want to talk about climate change but haven’t really found a “nucleus” to trigger the conversation. “Perhaps that’s because this existential threat is too big and depressing to truly grasp. Or maybe we simply lack the vocabulary to put the crisis in honest terms. Probably both.”, wrote Brian Kahn on GIZMODO. In a way, Don’t Look Up has broken the ice.
2. Haters and lovers
The movie’s negative reviews have been nothing short of contemptuous. Adam McKay’s movie has been described as “angry”, “smug”, “sad”, “shrill”, “condescending”, “scattergun”, “disastrous”, “insensitive”, “unfunny”, “depressing”, “heavy handed” but also “toothless”. On the other hand, scientists reacted to the film’s depiction of their work being ignored and trivialised as being “utterly true“. In a written opinion to The Guardian, Peter Kalmus, a climate scientist, said Don’t Look Up is “the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen”.
As social media channels got flooded with reactions to the movie, writer and director Adam McKay, along with David Sirota, jumped in to address a vigorous online audience both applauding and slamming the climate satire: “Loving all the heated debate about our movie. But if you don’t have at least a small ember of anxiety about the climate collapsing (or the US teetering) I’m not sure Don’t Look Up makes any sense“, wrote McKay on Twitter.
“A climate movie is the #1 most popular film on the world’s largest streaming platform. This is an enormous win. If you can’t at least acknowledge that, then it’s a safe bet that you’re a character in that film“, expressed Sirota.
3. Decadent society
The movie features a plot in which a 9-to-10km-diameter comet is heading to Earth and the government entirely dismisses the gravity of the situation, as decided by the US President’s “sit tight and assess”, played by Meryl Streep. On the other hand, there’s a harsh glimpse of humanity’s reaction to the impending doom, with some not even believing on the existence of a comet. The whole scenery was entirely framed in a whirlpool of meaningless social media activity with the mainstream media steering the narrative away from the important matters.
Overall, the comet depicts a metaphor for climate change, and the characters all play a poignant symbolic part. From the scientists literally screaming into the void, begging to be heard, to the queer tech billionaire, played by Mark Rylance, who wants to mine the comet for rare minerals using unproven technology. Rylance’s character has been compared to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Apple’s Tim Cook. or Space X’s and Tesla’s Elon Musk as well as the deep influence these corporate leaders have on high-level politicians, who are supposedly running the show.
In the portrait of a decadent society where power remains the absolute goal, DiCaprio’s last words, while sharing a last meal, had a soothing effect, as the end-of-the-world drama reached the end: “We really did have everything, didn’t we?” he says, starring as a scientist. “I mean, if you think about it.”.