Don’t Look Up (2021)


This despairing satire, written, produced and directed by the veteran moviemaker, Adam McKay, seems one of the most pessimistic films since Dr. Strangelove. As in Kubrick’s comedy of a grand and inevitable demise of humanity, self-rendered, Twain’s mankind, no damned good after all, will not only incur their own destruction but become little more than hapless spectators of that Violent Finality.

McKay’s tragicomedy is staged largely in the relentlessly televised world of the day’s political-media-celebrity culture whose lead actors are news anchors, prominent politicians, business and financial leaders, and celebrities. Especially, he dramatizes, this world is peopled by fools for whom awareness of existential threats imposes no sobriety. Awareness creates no motive to defend our well-being. Even as doom hurtles toward Homo saps, they seem powerless to react in any saving way. They keep their Nero fiddles in the downstairs closet.

The storyline: Leonardo DiCaprio is an astronomy professor whose bright student, played by Jennifer Lawrence, discovers with absolute certainty a massive meteorite hurtling toward an apocalyptic collision with Earth; unless immediate measures are taken, including a project to intercept and nuke the meteorite off its course, life as we know it on Earth will end.

McKay, leaving nothing he can think of to chance, has publicly said the obvious: his dread drama is a metaphor for the Climate Change Crisis.

As the professor and his student seek to sound an urgent warning, they find themselves lost in futility as they desperately run hither and yon around the world of the Powerful–the president, military generals, news anchors, and so on. Theirs is the inverse of the story of the naked Emperor. Tyler Perry, acting as a news anchor on a network bringing CNN and ilk to mind, turns in the finest performance among the Foolish Prominent. Rather than talk about the crisis to the professor and his student on a crucial interview set, he insists with a smarmy smile and a gracious manner that the most pressing question is whether there is human-like life Out There in space. The president (Meryl Streep) wants to study the problem further before taking action. A New Age billionaire owner of a leading high-tech company wants to use the dooming drama to make more money. And so it goes.

The movie is essentially a journey among such lemmings–their types, classes and styles.

McKay, it seems clear, has given up on humanity and decided to accept the foreshortened (and, you must surmise he believes) merely temporary satisfaction–a prelude to catastrophe–of dark satire.

In sum: Don’t Look Up is a cynical guide, not a warning. For McKay, it’s too late for a warning.

Meanwhile, for equilibrium, try, say, Shane. Or Twelve O’Clock High.