“Don’t Look Up” …Down …Or Around

By Steve Vertlieb: (Beware spoilers.) The frenzy of joyous controversy swirling over director Adam McKay’s new film Don’t Look Up has stirred a healthy, if frenetic debate over the meaning and symbology of this bonkers dramedy. On its surface a cautionary satire about the impending destruction of the planet, Don’t Look Up is a deceptively simplistic tale of moronic leadership refusing to accept a grim, unpleasant reality smacking it in its face.  While some have written of its hidden ecological message, the film clearly takes unrelenting aim at the vulgar stupidity which has dominated domestic politics and the American landscape over the past half dozen years.  Delicately bending genders in its casting of both The President of The United States and the most prominent “child” occupying the White House are Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill as, presumably, the former President and First Daughter, both concerned only with their own selfish pleasures and narcissistic gratification.  

When scientific expert Leonardo DiCaprio brings the pair the news that an humongous comet, roughly the size of Mount Everest, is dangerously hurtling toward the Earth on a collision course that will devastate and ultimately destroy the planet, they choose to minimize the threat and look the other way in order to avoid the moral responsibility of facing an Inconvenient Truth.  The allusions to Covid and its official denials from the commander-in-chief are unmistakable.  If we just choose to ignore the impending disaster and indefinitely postpone potential solutions, then the threat will simply disappear. 

Mark Rylance in a chilling turn as creepy media guru Peter Isherwell is a ne’er-do-well in a self absorbed  caricature that appears to fluctuate uneasily between Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  Orwellian “double speak” proliferates the troubling lines of communication between science and political ambition while a deadly comet continues to its deadly destination and fate, untroubled by mortal greed and smug complacency.  Ignorance is apparent bliss, as reality is met with anger and suspicion.  While Covid appears a not so subtle substitute for the planet killer and coming genocide, Proud Boys entrenched within the political establishment continue to laugh contemptuously at the indisputable fact that life on Earth is swiftly nearing its inevitable conclusion. Philosophical allusions continue with disturbingly similarity to descriptions of the January 6th insurrection by Conservative Republican zealots as a “love fest” in which rioters “hugged and kissed” capital police.

While comedic in much of its tone and scripted tenor, there lies an ominous blinding light at the end of the structural tunnel that portends a frightening prophecy come true, recalling the melancholy conclusions of films like Knowing, Deep Impact, and Searching For A Friend At The End of The World.  The ultimate irony of the film lies in the subtle truth that reality happens whether one chooses to accept it or not… whether one chooses to turn a blind eye to it or not.  A character in the film at its finale, hearing a deafening roar, looks up into the night sky, asking in understated terror “WHAT IS THAT”?  By then, of course, it’s too late.  The proverbial door has quite literally kicked us in the ass.  We’ve chosen to turn away from the truth while being told Don’t Look Up.  By the time we’ve instinctually turned our direction toward the sky, it’s too late.

3 thoughts on ““Don’t Look Up” …Down …Or Around

  1. Or, as Phil Dick put it, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

    As for the movie: I watched it on Netflix 10 days ago. It held my attention but I don’t think back upon it, except to observe that Meryl Streep was having (too much?) fun playing President Orlean, a character who likewise clearly enjoyed herself; the Former Guy she’s supposedly parodying never once seemed happy. One cannot imagine President Muffley cracking a smile in Dr. Strangelove, whereas Orlean is too amused with herself.

  2. By the time we’ve instinctually turned our direction toward the Former Guy, it was way too late!

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