One of the newest Netflix releases over the holidays is the star-studded dramadey, Don’t Look Up, which asks the question: What would America do if a comet was about to strike earth, killing us all? The satirical piece takes shots at politicians, tech moguls and media alike leaving almost no hegemonic industry unscathed. But is it all a metaphor for COVID-19, Climate Change and other liberal fantastical catastrophes? Further: Is it any good?
The Conservative Critic will ask: Is it entertaining? Does it have intellectual/artistic value? And is it liberal propaganda?
The Conservative Critic Meter Check: Don’t Look Up
Overall Rating: Good
Don’t Look Up shines brightest in concept. In typical science fiction form, the film asks and answers a hypothetical question about the demise of planet earth. Unusually but not totally revolutionary, it asks the question with a major wink. Following the journey of two scientists who discover a comet is heading directly toward earth and their interactions with the highest level of American leadership such as the President, news anchors and big tech CEOs, Don’t Look Up asks viewers to laugh at themselves and the constructs of our systems and dares us to take more seriously dire scenarios by ironically making light of them.
Writers Adam McKay and David Sirota (notably of The Guardian) created a challenging piece which brilliantly displays its themes through audience reaction in a sort of interactive art form unlike most films of its kind. Despite being a little slow, it keeps audience interest. Overall a good show.
Is it entertaining?
The pace is slow, taking place over the course of six months but only focusing on a few days and key moments. But even in its slow pace, Don’t Look Up packs a punch with pulpy satire and fun cheeky dialog which carries a discerning viewer along in a string of deadpan jokes at their own expense or at the expense of groups they recognize. While the movie makes a tonal shift and concludes with more sobriety, it can’t quite help itself with one final climactic parody featuring a massive concert ala “Live Aid” and a saccharine pop song meant to save our souls.
The urgency of the pending world-ending comet never does come through the way it would in another style of film (such as in the comparable film, Armageddon) but the wit and situational humor are more than enough to entertain the audience.
Does it have intellectual/artistic value?
Rating: Kinda brilliant
The film’s genius lies in its interactive quality. One of the main themes of the movie is the idea that people – particularly people in power- are prone to manipulate the terms of a scenario or issue to fit their own biases and narratives. The film achieves this theme through not only the humorous antics of the politicians and pop stars but also by way of the viewer assigning roles to all of the characters.
Objectively and per the commentary of the director, the politicians represented in the movie are an amalgam of many politicians and “types” of politicians. The celebrities are based on types not specific individuals. However, there is a hypnotic impulse by viewers to assign characters to real life individuals and to connect metaphors to real life issues – of course- all to suit our own narratives.
Media types across the internet have called President Orleans (played by Meryl Streep) a “Trump” character even though despite my best efforts to stay objective, I thought she was much more of a Hillary Clinton character. There were elements of the character which could have gone either way or in no way at all. Even if a viewer is trying not to place their bias on the story and connect the characters to people they recognize, they can’t resist. And in doing so – they see the true spirit of the story of how easy it is to hear only what we want to hear and see only what we want to see until it’s too late.
This witchcraft of writing was extremely impressive and while other films have had a sort of interactive quality in their moral themes, none come to mind that have achieved the codependency with the viewer so directly.
All of the many Academy Award winning and nominated actors (Meryl Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett and Jonah Hill) were as stellar as they should be in relatively small and confined roles. But there were two stand out performances worth mentioning. Timothy Chalamet (Dune, Call Me By Your Name) once again stole the screen providing the film’s tonal shift as a deeply religious pseudo-anarchist who on first impression comes off as a punk kid but ultimately fulfills the most depth and most sincerity of any character presented in the course of the story. Additionally, the criminally underrated Melanie Lynskey (Sweet Home Alabama, Two and a Half Men) delivers a powerful representation of everyday Americans as the wife of DiCaprio’s recently starborn scientist, Randall Mindy.
Between the performances and the interesting audience participation, Don’t Look Up, really shines as a piece of art.
Is it liberal propaganda
Rating: Neutral (HEAR ME OUT)
I know it seems like it definitely would be liberal propaganda. But as I said above, the agenda only is what you want it to be. Could I make a tie between Don’t Look Up and issues like Climate Change or even COVID-19? Easily. But only because I want to assign those issues to a story which actually has nothing to do with them. And further even if it was a metaphor for either of those issues it certainly does not offer that the real solution to those issues are the idiotic progressive ideas which have failed to solve either in real life. In fact it suggests that the ideas being publicly offered as solutions to problems aren’t very well vetted.
At the end of the day, the story is about a crisis which is handled badly by the media, the science community, tech billionaires and pop stars. Not exactly a list of conservatives. But not exactly a list of liberals either. The entire point is that we are all responsible for the political volleyball that takes place on issues which matter the most to us. And the warning masked as a joke is that we could take it to a place where we would sooner actually die than concede our point of view. I think the political take in the film is truly the definition of neutrality and challenges us to reflect on the people we trust to lead us and whether or not any of them are actually worthy.
Further the film treats almost nothing with any respect except two things: science itself (not scientists) and religion. God and faith is a critical part of the sobering note of the film and is lifted up above the fray of the rest of the story. There is a clear idea that your politics shouldn’t be your faith and that faith is truly a unifying practice which transcends even science.
Don’t Look Up definitely presents itself like a liberal laden satire but actually is a subtly genius exploration of our own unwillingness to let go of our narratives even with our lives on the line. With its celebration of faith and its tongue and cheek sense of humor, Don’t Look Up is overall a success.