If you knew a “planet-killing” meteor was going to destroy Earth in six months, what would you do?
Adam McKay’s new disaster satire “Don’t Look Up” confronts this existential question and offers his take on what the end of the world might look like in maybe one of the most depressing comedies ever.
The film follows two astronomers, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), who discover a comet on a trajectory to destroy Earth in six months. After being turned away from the White House and trivialized by the media as another silly science story, DiCaprio and Lawrence’s characters turn to social media to implore people to “Just look up.”
With themes of unchecked political and corporate corruption, rampant media illiteracy and science denialism, McKay gives us a glimpse into the chaos that might occur if humanity were ever to face its biggest threat: extinction.
If you are looking for a comedy similar to McKay’s previous work like “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers,” you might miss the urgent message behind this one.
In an exclusive audio interview with Space.com, McKay said he experienced a state of “real terror” after reading the book “The Uninhabitable Earth” (Tim Duggan Books, 2019) by U.S. climate change journalist David Wallace-Wells, which describes possible after-effects of global warming such as climate wars and severe economic plunges.
From there, the film’s plot line was born, using the metaphor of an impending world-killing comet to describe the reaction of the public, scientists and policy-makers to climate change.
“This [climate change] is the biggest story in human history, and arguably the biggest threat since the Chicxulub comet 66 million years ago,” McKay said to Science.com, describing the asteroid many scientists say is responsible for the demise of the dinosaurs after crashing into Earth.
While the laughs might not be as forthcoming as you might expect, the film itself seems to oppose the idea that social commentary must include some comedic element to make an altogether disquieting message more palatable.
Yes, Jonah Hill’s achingly unqualified Chief of Staff character delivered a handful of snarky, frat-boy remarks, and Timothy Chalamet’s last-minute character appearance helped ease the mounting tension with his random role, but I didn’t find myself letting out more than a scoff here and there. While I wish there was a tad more humor in the film, I don’t think the intention was for a laugh-out-loud, everyone lived happily ever after type of movie, and McKay didn’t need to establish a strong comedic element to still successfully make his point.
The film was a big hit on Netflix, but critics and movie watchers alike were polarized in their responses.
And while the star-studded cast alone pulled the film into the limelight, it didn’t gain as much traction as one would think with such big-name leads such as DiCaprio and Lawrence, and supporting characters played by big names such as Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill.
Some critics, like Rosie Fletcher, UK Editor of Den of Geeks, praise the satire for being “sharp, funny and packed with talent.”
According to the critic’s review, while the depressing comedy might not be for everyone, it’s definitely more than just another Netflix film.
“You can’t fault McKay’s ability to weave together an on-the-nose, state-of-the-nation story that speaks very directly to everything that’s happening now,” Fletcher said. “It’s the message McKay wants to tell and there’s something rather powerful and even noble about the sense of kinetic fury constantly in the background here.”
Other critics like Nick Allen, assistant editor at RogerEbert.com and a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association, criticize the movie for being too smug and dramatic in its delivery, missing the mark on greater insight about social media, technology, global warming, celebrity, and in general, human existence.
Nia Aguinaldo, junior media communications major with an emphasis in production, had mixed feelings about the film.
While the all-star cast initially pulled her in, Aguinaldo felt like the movie dragged on way too long and didn’t need the two hour and 25 minute runtime it had.
“As the movie went on, I was like, ‘Is this going to end at any point,’” she said. “Cut out a solid 20 minutes and maybe the movie would be more bearable.”
Aguinaldo also thought that the movie’s message didn’t bring much to the table on a grander scale.
“I don’t think the movie had anything new to say. We are living in it, we know all about climate change and how we have to take care of the planet and each other and how the media plays into that,” Aguinaldo said. “I feel like there’s a lot of movies and shows that have been trying to jump on that message for the past several years.”
Despite her critiques, Aguinaldo thought the film had a solid ending and was one of the best parts of the film. “I think what the movie got right is that with a lot of movies about the world ending, oftentimes the people end up okay and somehow survive whatever is coming at them, but in this movie they don’t,” she said. “It kind of forces you to just sit there as a pop song plays over these pretty credits, almost like, ‘Let’s give you a second to think about this.’ It was beautiful in a scary way.”
While the film gives glimpses of other responses to the meteor’s imminent arrival, the main group settles into a rather nihilistic acceptance of their fate. Gathering for one final, last supper-esque meal, Dibiasky, Mindy and their loved ones do all that one can at the very end of everything: Pray to a God you hope is there, share a meal with those you love and reminisce on how good it all really was.
Written By: Kayla Wong