Don’t Look Up
It’s testament to Don’t Look Up’s “quality” that critics who would normally lap up this kind of liberal-causes messaging couldn’t find it within themselves to grant it a free pass. Adam McKay has attempted to refashion himself as a satirist since jettisoning former collaborator Will Ferrell, but as a Hollywood player and an inevitably socio-politically partisan one, he simply falls in line with the most obvious, fatuous propagandising.
Kate Dibiasky: You guys, the truth is way more disturbing. They’re not even smart enough to be as evil as you’re giving them credit for.
Six years ago, McKay earned considerable kudos – he suddenly became an “Oscar conversation” guy – for making the pretty good The Big Short. That movie, for all its virtues in tackling a potentially stodgy subject, conspicuously failed to take in the bigger picture. An approach that continued into Vice, and now – ironically, given its attempt to address the “biggest” picture – Don’t Look Up.
In McKay’s comprehension of global events, things just happen. Markets just tumble, based on the activities of a few irresponsible individuals; there’s no guiding hand behind the scenes. Governments, and presidents, make their decisions autonomously, without being advised or persuaded to do so by hidden forces. That makes Don’t Look Up’s scenario – a 5-10km wide comet on a collision course with the Earth – a seamless fit (unconnected events, unconnected people). Less so is that he’s using it as an analogy for a concern he considers entirely connected and causative.
When interrogated, then, Don’t Look Up’s metaphor is as awkward as Get Out’s, but McKay’s presentation is about the response. Which, despite representing an “extinction-level event” makes the comet itself something of a MacGuffin (McKay would doubtless blanche at climate change also being referred to as a MacGuffin, but it’s little more than that, as a device necessary to steering the population’s motivation, with negligible value in and of itself).
The incongruity – some might say audacity – of Don’t Look Up’s soapboxing derives from the suggestion no one is listening to this issue – the climate change issue – when it is really the media-propelled, manufactured message of the day (just the same as the coof, which obviously has eclipsed it. For now). Hence poster troll Greta. Hence Adam’s megabucks megastars Netflix movie. Far from being shunned and ignored earnest crusaders for truth – as portrayed by popular activist Leonardo DiCaprio, ex of the pussy posse, and J-Law, headliner of David Icke’s appropriated “Hunger Games Society” meme – it’s anyone NOT taking their approved position who is going to be vilified (be that with regard to climate change or the coof – usually with the derogation ‘denier” following close behind).
Does Don’t Look Up expressing itself as a metaphor for climate change somehow make it cleverer than addressing the subject outright? McKay presumably thinks so. And let’s face it, he needs all the smarts he can get. If there’s a blessing, it means there’s no inevitable Thunberg cameo. Kubrick’s nuclear armageddon satire Dr. Strangelove – with which this has been compared, in a “You wish” manner – actually was about the issue it headlined (publicly, anyway). McKay is evidently aiming for a similar kind of “people in power making terrible decisions when events spin of control” vibe, complete with a mastermind/ genius/ philanthropist coming along to save the day once the better proportion of people have been wiped out/ culled.
Kate: Why aren’t people terrified? What do we have to say? What do we have to do?
The above dialogue seems to be McKay’s mantra; how do we get everyone with the programme, per WEF conditioning, carbon credits, green dollars, etc? Why won’t everyone listen? Obviously, there’s a much more effective fear-propaganda programme being enforced currently, and the merging of the two will, in due course, become evident. And obviously, there’s a level of complacency in both McKay’s storytelling and his targets. Climate change is an immutable truth; therefore, everything else here follows as a matter of course. Yet he also has the brass to suggest he’s offering a new twist:
We’ve seen so many thousands of movies that, guaranteed, are gonna end with a happy ending, or the world’s gonna be saved, whether it’s disaster movies or James Bond movies or Marvel movies. We know they’re going to end with a happy ending, for the most part. If you look at how we’re responding to the climate crisis, it’s just getting more and more urgent in a way [like] nothing I’ve ever seen or even heard about, and I do think… we do tend to watch. These narratives that always end in a happy way, maybe we all expect it to work out… You actually have to do stuff to get a happy ending. I always wanted the movie to end like that, and to remind us that’s not guaranteed. I thought it’d have power just by breaking that Hollywood narrative rule.
You mean, unlike the last couple of decades of Hollywood “hero dies” narratives? Or, just in the disaster market. like Deep Impact? Or Knowing? Or Greenland? Or 2012? (I guess it’s a happy ending if one audience-surrogate family is saved.) McKay has essentially made a Roland Emmerich movie but without the fun. He does, however, reference it, because he’s that sharp (“It’s called Total Destruction. It cost $300 million to make”).
Don’t Look Up is replete with soft, gummy bite. We have Meryl Streep’s ditzy Komedy Madam President – “Hillary wins” wish fulfilment but with Sleepy Joe effectiveness (Streep claims she’s Trump-inspired, of course). We have Jonah Hill as her Hunter Biden son, Hill doing his hyper twat-invective act (Hill can be a boon to a project, and also utterly tiresome if allowed free rein). A sex scandal requiring a diversionary tactic (Wag the Dog). There’s obfuscatory political speak (“Can we just call it a potentially significant event?”) A photo of the President with Steven Seagal is about the level McKay’s aiming at (see also Ron Pearlman as a “hilarious” bigot). There are numerous references to the impact of social media, memes etc, the kind of barrage that went down well in The Big Short but comes across as unmoored here. Vroom Vroom Army sees him taking the piss out of shallow and empty virtue-signalling celeb nonsense while Don’t Look Up itself functions as shallow and empty virtue-signalling celeb nonsense.
There’s the blatant allusion, as if it were needed, that the plundering of the comet (ie the plundering of the Earth), as the threat grows ever more imminent, will accelerate our total destruction (“to make rich people even more disgustingly rich”). This comes in tandem with macrocosmic arguments for the same (“Your dad and I are for the jobs the comet will provide”). Such Hegelian positions – manufactured, oppositional ones – are essential for the sermon to land (which is, obviously, designed to ensure responsible government needs to step in and force us to save ourselves).
Isherwell: We’ve been developing phase fission reactions in the CERN Particle accelerator that can splinter the comet into smaller pieces with breath-taking accuracy.
There’s also Sir Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), the third richest person in the world (so why is it J-Law’s doctoral student Kate Dibiashy needs to be told all about him?) Jeff Bezos or Steve Jobs played by Andy Warhol, with Elon Musk off-again on-again proclamations about mankind’s destiny (“intergalactic existence for the human race” – it’s okay for McKay to be sceptical about that one, as it’s a long-term grower).
I rather suspect the nature of McKay’s MacGuffin will work only to undermine his intended case, which would fit the ham-fisted approach generally. Much as it’s been both a popular (Armageddon) and unpopular (Meteor) source of mass-media disaster porn, and as much as it is underpinned by “fact” (an astral body wiping out the dinosaurs), the “destructive force from outer space” remains very much in the realm of the theorised, fictionalised danger, one that cannot be pointed to tangibly.
By association, so it is for enviro-awareness; you can point to acres of plastic and waste (not least via billions of discarded face nappies), but there remains a difference between a propaganda war and one people accept as unadulterated truth (regardless of how much they may nod in agreement at environmentally conscious measures). As with the coof measures, you need to impact their lives directly to get an “affirmative” response. Consequently, Don’t Look Up remains an ineffectual science-fiction entertainment. And not an especially entertaining one.
As usual with Hollywood, the unlikely, extreme scenario (comet strike wiping us out) is used to set the official narrative in plausible relief, the scientific model we’re all taught to believe without question. Space is real. Comets are real. Climate change is real. Population crisis is real. To wit: a comet (alleged) bigger than the asteroid (alleged) that destroyed (alleged) the dinosaurs (alleged) is headed directly at Earth (alleged globe). The reinforcement of “known” facts is essential and supportive, such that when impact occurs, it will yield “the power of a billion Hiroshima bombs” (alleged nuke threat).
Were Don’t Look Up satirising its satire, so to speak, from a perspective of profoundly non-committal irreverence, that might be something. At one point, the President and her son reel of a list of ‘the world is ending” fear tactics used over the years: “Economic collapse, loose nukes, car exhaust killing the atmosphere, Drought, famine, plague, Uh… alien invasion, population growth, hole in the ozone…” And again, put that way, in the manner of media-that-cried-wolf manipulations, it rather works against McKay’s evangelical zeal.
When McKay announces (with a Big Short-style title card) “The Planetary Defence Co-ordination Office is a real place” it’s a taking the piss. But the additional layer is the very office already taking the piss, like everything NASA says and does. The nature of this kind of material is that it occasionally skirts close to a legitimate target. When a charge of “Jewish billionaires’” financing involvement is used to discredit the Just Look Uppers, it’s a reminder that accusations of racism or worse are commonly called upon as conversation stoppers, a failure-proof means to disavow the conspirasphere as legitimate on any given subject.
There’s also the presence of the tech billionaire promoting experimental technology to save humanity that hasn’t been properly tested (“And is his nano-tech work peer reviewed?”) Isherwell’s predictive algorithms (boasting 96.5 percent accuracy for manner of death) are suggestive of someone like Clif High. Other lines resonate too. “She’s the head of NASA, but maybe she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” “We saw it. We saw it with our own eyes. Using a telescope” needs no further comment. Impending destruction (“It’s horrific… and it’s beautiful all at the same time“) sounds like the mantra of a depopulation architect.
There’s also the whacky future alien planet ending – a happy ending, if you like. If we’re to take the movie’s events beginning on the day of its release, either 5 (cinemas) or 24 December (Netflix) the six months and fourteen days takes us to 19 June or 8 July. And 22,740 years later takes us to 24,762. The scene plays a little like bad Douglas Adams (so obviously, McKay thinks its gold, Jerry, gold): But ultimately, that brontorach ending with the president was just so hilarious and funny, and you never go wrong with a bunch of space creatures eating a bunch of billionaires. It’s a solid way to end any movie.
Feckless Youth: Can I touch your hair in a non-sexual way?
No one was going to come out of this with a great deal of surplus credit. Streep does her “popular” comedy mugging. Cate Blanchett likewise wants to prove she can do funny (good luck there). Tyler Perry fits in fairly seamlessly. Rylance is amusing for maybe a minute. Jennifer Lawrence has nothing very memorable to do aside from being embarrassed by social media (so nothing new there). Timothée Chalamet, is unsurprisingly the kiss of death to an emotional scene due to his vaguely sociopathic edge.
Mindy – what a funny name! – appears to be designed as a developmentally arrested man-child, hence referencing crying when the family dog died and having his Star Wars poster signed by Mark Hamill (you know, the kind of empty, brainless juvenilia McKay is now above). As such, one might argue Leo being utterly unconvincing as a father of grownup kids kind of fits. But it doesn’t, really. And there’s no reason someone else wouldn’t have done the part much better justice (but who, perhaps, wasn’t a committed environmentalist). Probably the best performance here is Melanie Lynskey as Mindy’s wife, but that rather means the movie doesn’t deserve her.
Don’t Look Up is The Beano version of devastating satire, except any bright seven-year-olds would give up after ten minutes and resort to something higher minded, like The Bash Street Kids. Netflix, with its built-in audience, has been making a thing of showing Yuletide apocalypse porn. First Bird Box (2018), then The Midnight Sky (2020), now this; the success of the first one makes some degree of visceral sense, the second, being an interminable bore, is less comprehensible. It seems Don’t Look Up is following suit. Of course, making a halfway competent movie is enough of a chore for the streamer. The combination of competence and stratospheric viewer counts are likely to remain permanently elusive.
Addendum: Some have suggested Don’t Look Up may be predictive programming for a planned event, much as Independence Day or given movie or show of that ilk is predictive programming for Project Bluebeam’s “alien invasion”. And yeah, it’s feasible, I guess, that the use of HAARP/chemtrails – and a hefty dose of typically contorted gematria, along with “true flame” Snowden’s unsourced warnings on HAARP, as if he ever broached any territory not widely understood anyway – may be called on as a next stage in the depopulation agenda.
You might simulate a comet strike as a cover for devastation-by-other-means in aid of mass casualties/food shortages etc (see Ice Age Farmer for the latter). But if they (the Elite) are planning anything that would approximate another reset/mudflood event, I’d suggest it’s a fall back, rather than primary plan (as in: it’s messy and triggers a time-consuming aftermath, and where’s the transhumanism in that?) I tend to the view that Don’t Look Up’s scenario is a reinforcement of the “topography” of the current prescribed paradigm. To use McKay’s thinking, the comet hit is a metaphor, for something planned and in progress, perhaps not extinction level, but certainly devastating to the former way of life.
Addendum 2: An alternative/additional reading is that the metaphor for climate change is in turn a metaphor for the coof, and so testifies to the dedication of science in revealing how alerting us to this mortal threat will not, alas, be enough to prevent our imminent extinction. Excepting the chosen few saved through the intervention of our transhumanistically inclined billionaire saviour(s). This isn’t an interpretation that carries very organically, however, except in the basic truth of science as a basic liar, since “doofus” governments have overwhelmingly gathered round to stave off this inimical danger etc.
It’s been noted that Isherwell sniffs a woman’s hair – a Creepy Joe quirk – and has great influence over the media (à la Gates). But for the coof critique to hold water, Leo and J-Law need to be the ignored protestors against the likes of Fauci, and McKay needs to have been lying when he said he changed almost nothing from the 2019 screenplay post plandemic’s beginning. Anything is, of course, feasible – including that he has was granted prior insight into the plan, and he’s really working for “the good guys” – but it seems more likely to me that, by virtue of its presentation as “metaphor”, it’s very easy to read the narrative one wants into Don’t Look Up (this applies just as much to me). One thing’s for sure, if it is a criticism, and McKay is also making The First Shot for HBO, then it’s a game of bluff and double bluff that seems to laugh in the face of coherent interrogation.