Movie Review: Thoughts on Don’t Look Up by Netflix
Obligatory ***SPOILERS ALERT***. I originally thought of Don’t Look Up as a satire, or a dark comedy, or even a tragic comedy, but now I see as something different, a cultural mirror. When we gaze into that mirror, I think it is safe to say most of us don’t like what we are seeing because what we are seeing is the decay and collapse of our civilization.
Let’s go straight to some of the controversial thoughts I was having. If the movie is only a critique of the political right regarding climate change, then the movie is a failure and pointless. I thought the movie contained a lot of elements of self-criticism of our dominant left-wing culture, but when I listened to an interview of the director and writers that impression faded. It all but collapsed when the director referenced Trump and bleach, which the director still accepts as gospel truth (that Trump said people should ingest bleach) which has been demonstrated as false and anyone can read the transcript of Trump’s remarks on that. The way the media and regular people spun the bleach episode is lightly touched upon in the movie; how media tends to spin things, like when the president and her son are talking about how they can soften the 100% chance the asteroid will hit to 70%. Spin happens, lies happen, the reality is the people who can make things happen through media know what the truth is but aren’t interested in it, what they are interested in is how they can spin it to become an advantage. Did the director do the same thing?
A lot of the movie was typical right-wing bashing which could be easily determined by examining the casting choices of the extras (like that chunky guy who looks up and sees the asteroid and says “they lied to us”). The right-wingers are shown to be rural-type rubes, incapable of culture working-class, lower-class unsophisticates who worship the “cool rich”. Their stupidity and actions in the movie were caricatures, reminding me of how rural people were portrayed in Deliverance. Think of Ron Perlman’s character who was so stupid and buffoonish he failed to be funny. People on the right will always be seen as non-entities, devoid of any decency, common-sense, or reasonableness. The dominant media and Hollywood culture will always portray their enemy as doofuses and clowns. It is reasonable to at least to recognize this, that these are one’s political enemies being clowned and I believe that taints the art.
This brings me to the liberal “woke” worldview the movie portrays. It is downright depressing and insane. People are more interested in appearances than truth. The whole film shows a civilization rejecting truth and its consequences. There is a fundamental inability or lack of interest in pursuing truth. Instead of digging at why this is, the film shows people to be nothing more than greedy and selfish idiots, as if there are no convincing reasons why people believe different things. As such, it is power that motivates us and our beliefs.
The film demonstrates the current state of the culture is completely broken by social media and artificial political divides. I say artificial political divides because social media and official media amplified a bunch of voices and commentators into creating conflicting points of view, probably for nothing more than engagement and views/clicks. This has seemed to be the case ever since the Buckley vs. Vidal debates in 1968. There was a very good documentary about this called Best of Enemies. In it the documentary shows how having two people from different points of view duke it out before audiences is phenomenal for views. Ever since we’ve had people shouting and arguing on political shows for our entertainment. Debate is a good thing under circumstances that permit it to be legitimate, but not when it is to become a spectacle. That is how the Don’t Look Uppers competed against the Just Look Uppers. Their debate turned into a lowest common denominator slugfest when in reality their differences had to do with exploiting the asteroid as opposed to annihilating it. They couldn’t have compromised and done both missions back to back in case one failed. As far as I know, the equipment wasn’t lost after the president turned the rockets back from the first mission.
I fully agree that mankind will not be able to save itself from extinction-level events. Even if someone argues that we haven’t caused climate change, even if that were true and events are because of the sun or something else, I still think humans will eventually cause climate problems. Did you know that there have been 528 nuclear bomb tests in our atmosphere? Why did we have to detonate so many nuclear bombs? And what happens to those bombs fallout? One guy I read years ago said a lot of that fallout would have been carried by jet streams and become deposited in the ice at the north pole and Greenland. That fallout would be hot and burn a lot of ice away and the melted ice going into the ocean would have an effect. Anyway, other than maybe one or two people I had never before heard anyone discuss the effects of nuclear fallout on the environment. We know nuclear waste isn’t a good thing, but has anyone discussed fallout? Why did we need to do so many nuclear tests?
My main point, before I go on too long a tangent, is that mankind appears to be lucky when it comes to very bad extinction level events. We seem to lack the capability to cooperate without the interference of corruption. One hopes that’s hokum since there are a lot of strategies invented to deal with planet-killer asteroids, so I would hope we could set aside differences and come together to resolve a big issue, but the lessons of the pandemic show that to be… inconclusive. After all, despite everything the government and people have done the virus continues to infect and is endemic. Could we have done more? The answer is always of course, but I cannot contemplate what kind of incentive would be required to do it.
The billionaire character Peter shouldn’t be a seen as a critique on capitalism, but rather a critique on billionaires, or the 1% who are so powerful they can alter the trajectory of mankind with their own ideas. So, instead of powerful emperors and kings, we now have powerful wealth-elite who determine the course of countries and thereby mankind. I haven’t read anything that addresses this phenomenon. People sense powerful corporations are a problem and corporatism is a thing, but is billionairism a thing? The film highlights a lot of problems when a Peter exists. To me he was a clear riff on the reptilian-memed Zuckerberg and Facebook, so I was sad to discover that he was actually a combination of Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos. The cracks about databases containing millions of datapoints, combined with algorithms, that can determine things about individuals was both scary and hilarious. It does look like we are on the cusp of a very real god who knows us and our sins and judges us. Do we really want that power in the hands of weirdos like Peter?
This is random but the kid’s prayer at the end of the movie was astoundingly good. I was expecting the usual “ha ha Christians are complete dopey morons, look at us make fun of these obvious idiots” but they didn’t do that. The prayer gave actual comfort and peace in the face of certain death. The atheist worldview in contrast was devoid of compassion, dignity, and maturity and those characters were in full panic and despair at the end.
The satirized media was so well done, it was hard to tell if it was actual satire or a faithful reproduction of how media is and would act in this scenario. It was a real treat to see someone take the media down a notch, especially when the primary audience of this film are the most trusting of media.
I liked the editing, the little bits of camera action of animals, random people doing random human things, shots of social media in action. I liked The Big Short as well which had similar sequences.
I think this movie’s attitude and opinion on our current state of civilization is spot on. It really does seem like our civilization, which knows it is fading and dying but refuses to admit and acknowledge it, is fully placing its head in the sand. There is no guarantee that civilization, particularly good civilization, will continue no matter how badly you corrupt it. Like the fall of Rome, the failure of our modern society to continue on is at stake, and it’s very real and no one will come out of it unscathed. Can the West handle another dark ages? I truly thought the film was a commentary on the decline of the West as opposed to a watchdog call to action about climate change. It functions better for the former and is too heavy handed for the latter.
How the president handled everything was eerie. The fact that we have movies showing blatant selfish incompetence in an administration, and we accept it as “yes, that is how it is” shows the total failure of our society already (and yes, I get that the president was a female Trump). In the 90s when Deep Impact came out we had a calm, collected, civilized president who took action. The media tried to maintain calm and report truth. Hysteria was expected in the masses and it was expected that leadership would be immovable mountains of competence and maturity. I wonder how an audience from the 90s (with no experience of the post-90s world) would respond to this movie. How would they have reacted to the blatant disregard of sacrosanctity the presidency formerly held? Were they to see only this film from 30 years in the future, would they be disgusted? Shocked?
I covered this a little bit earlier but at first I thought the Don’t Look Up/Just Look Up political divide was too obviously stupid to be realistically satire, but then I had a second thought and realized things really do devolve into the most basic shouting matches of the lowest level. The Uppers were citing the most basic science of astronomy that could be easily verified, and the Downers also agreed in the science (important to note this), but they wanted to exploit the comet, and yet the movie made it seem that the divide between the two was because one side believed the comet was going to hit the earth and the other didn’t, when it was about deflecting or exploiting the comet. So I concluded this was brilliantly pulled off. It’s too easy for the media to make straw men.
The president’s son was a bit over the top. His first half of scenes were very good, they portrayed a political elite with obvious disdain for the common man who was more than willing to exploit people for his own personal gain. Also the self-importance and credentialism. But then his character became a caricature of himself with his stupid speeches and actions (he should have at least been drunk or clearly on drugs, but they had to go with the “he’s an idiot” routine).
I’m glad there wasn’t any last minute save of the planet. Thank you for sparing me from the typical Hollywood feel-good ending. After all, like the movie said, the end of the world shouldn’t feel good.
You would think there would be a plan to hide the elite in deep underground military bases or fortified installations meant to ride out the kill shot, including giant submarines to hide out deep in the ocean, much like the survivors from Neal Stephenson’s book Seveneves. I guess that would be putting in too much in the movie and it wasn’t important to make the main point, but still, nerd-me wants to know other competent people existed on the planet and would have taken their own actions and not leave everything up to the president.
Also, clearly we shouldn’t give so much power to one elected official? Why did the world hand over its fate to a politician? There were no cabals or societies ready to band together and oust the president and the richest man on Earth? After all, we’re talking about the end of mankind, you would think all the strings would be getting pulled. The attempt at a separate rocket system from the other nations was pathetic and much too delayed.
The scientists’ emotional outbursts were excellently done. They showed the characters struggling to restrain themselves, holding back for as long as they could their outrage that no one was taking this seriously. I really really liked how they did this and had two different perspectives from the two scientists, the younger and hotter-headed one, and the older, maturer, more timid and polite one. The acting was very well done, and a brief shout out to the clever satire of Cate and Philip’s relationship and how he made a clickbait article when they broke up. I know that I, for one, have gotten sick of clickbait stuff that only wastes one time and I felt that was an expertly done jab at the whole process, something only a movie could pull off.
Someone mentioned this scenario created an in-universe conspiracy but there should have been some indication that the Russian-Chinese-Indians(?) attempt at deflection was sabotaged so the billionaire could get his attempt. I thought that was obvious but I don’t remember the movie mentioning this explicitly. That would make the most sense in the real world, considering what is happening in Kazakhstan so I think they missed an opportunity to tweak our nerves a little further and be clear about showing a regime would go so far as to ensure a high risk of the planet’s destruction for financial gain.
In conclusion, this movie is important to watch and discuss. There are a lot of things I criticized, but I think the overall effort by the directors was a good one, even if I’m not exactly the target audience. This is a good time for our culture to be more self-critical, particularly through film, since few read and do their own homework. It is my hope this film is not dismissed, even if there are flaws and drawbacks. I barely covered the surface of what this film has to offer, and now that I’ve written on it I am going to seek whatever articles I can find of what others have said and how they have taken it and I encourage anyone out there to write up reviews of good movies like this can create a need to discuss.