Looking at the Netflix movie ‘Don’t Look Up’

Sherra Owino, Copy Editor

Imagine a bunch of the hot-button topics of our modern age poured into a tub. Now, take a sponge and submerge it in the tub to soak up all these issues into a small, dense space. This seems to be the method the writers of “Don’t Look Up” used when creating this new movie found on Netflix. 

It’s pretty obvious that climate change and environmental science are at the forefront of this allegory/satire sandwich piece but that’s not all that’s there. There’s plenty of finger-pointing going around to span across social media, politics, family dynamics, morality issues, misused wealth and power and living in general.

In a sentence that’s a synopsis of the Netflix description, “Don’t Look Up” is about two astronomers trying to warn a distracted and numb social media world about a life-destroying comet headed straight for earth. The world’s response? “Meh. Whatever.” 

I can appreciate the message that screams the environment needs to be taken care of and that we’re not listening to the scientists telling us this. But I’d like to look beyond that in this instance since that’s a lot of what anyone’s talking about with this movie and instead be a different voice. 

There were a number of times as I watched this where I felt like the younger sister snickering, “Oooo you’re in trouble now!” as I watched an older sibling across the room getting reprimanded. In the case of this movie, it was the director and writers reprimanding parts of our society. 

One of the most ridiculous characters was the United States president played by Meryl Streep who treated her role as Commander-in-Chief like running for Homecoming Queen. The only time she took the matter of this extinction-causing comet seriously was when her popularity was threatened by the release of scandal. Otherwise her self-centered ways were controlled by her puppeteer, one of the wealthiest men in the world (and a major donor) who was owner of a major tech company. This tech maniac even goes so far to thwart a mission to deflect the comet in order to have his own moments of glory and elbow through to what he believes to be his own advantage. 

So, there’s the money, power and politics all wrapped up in one. Then you have the president’s equally ridiculous son and Chief of Staff (Jonah Hill) who has plenty of unresolved attachment issues that flood into his praying for all the stuff that money can buy while others are in search of hope for their lives. He looks for money and “things” to save him…literally and figuratively. 

Filmmaker, Adam McKay, really seems to want to show how social media can have its positives and negatives. The world he’s created, that doesn’t seem too far from our own, has become so numb to knowing truth and what’s actually important that when something arises that’s about life and death, everyone brushes it off. The electronic universe is more drawn in by gossip and a breakup between celebrities than things which can actually affect their lives. 

One of my favorite scenes is actually more quiet but equally powerful. There’s a moment when the world’s in distress and realizing that human dignity and connection is more important than anything social media can provide. With family and friends sitting around the dinner table discussing whether homemade pie tastes better than store bought, main character, Dr. Mindy (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) suggests they offer a prayer. No one there knows what to say or do apart from a young guy who doesn’t fit the stereotype for being religious. He gives a warm and heartfelt prayer, showing that faith and humanity can be found in unexpected people. 

As noted, a lot of big names are involved and give great performances. Besides the ones already mentioned, there’s Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Tyler Perry and even Ariana Grande as a few. 

From what I’m seeing, people are ready to jump up in arms with their anger at the messages in “Don’t Look Up.” In my mind, that’s exactly what it’s made to do. We should be getting upset that our environment is being so poorly treated and that money can buy out common sense. Human dignity should never be compromised for self-promotion and gossip on social media isn’t as important as factual news that affects our daily lives. 

The title “Don’t Look Up” came from a campaign in the movie put on by the ridiculous president (although Meryl Streep was great as always) who encouraged her listeners to tune out the message the scientists were saying and, essentially, bury their heads in the sand by not looking up to see the comet that was getting close enough to the earth to see with the naked eye. She wanted life to go on as normal and professed that if you ignore the comet, it doesn’t exist. 

As mentioned, this is a loaded message in a lot of ways so, interpret as you will. But let’s at least give it a look and thought before playing ostrich.