Critics say Dicaprio’s ‘Don’t Look Up’ is not a very good movie, but as an analogy for climate change it’s even worse
The new Netflix film Don’t Look Up is sort of the big budget sequel to celebrities singing Imagine, The film has an impressive cast—Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep—unfortunately they’ve all gathered in the service of a preachy climate change comedy that even a lot of left-wing reviewers found to be not very funny or illuminating.
If you’ve missed the concept of this one, it’s pretty simple. Two scientists discover a planet-killing comet is going to wipe out the earth in six months. The government plans to blow it up with nuclear missiles but that plan is put on hold when it’s discovered the comet is full of valuable minerals. The back up plan is to break up the comet and collect the valuable pieces that fall to earth. Meanwhile, the whole situation becomes so politicized that one scientist encourages people to just look up to see the comet really is coming while a backlash to this encourages people to do the opposite, i.e. don’t look up. If that analogy to climate change sounds pretty strained and not very funny, well that’s what a lot of reviewers thought too. Here’s Rolling Stone’s take:
Somewhere out there, someone may be crafting the ultimate Swiftian skewering of our cultural death-spiral moment — but Don’t Look Up is most certainly not that. So caught up in its own hysterical shrieking that it drowns out any laughs, or sense of poignancy, or points it might be trying to make, McKay’s screed imagines the response that would greet such dire news circa right now…
Don’t Look Up is a blunt instrument in lieu of a sharp razor, and while McKay may believe that we’re long past subtlety, it doesn’t mean that one man’s wake-up-sheeple howl into the abyss is funny, or insightful, or even watchable. It’s a disaster movie in more ways than one. Should you indeed look up, you may be surprised to find one A-list bomb of a movie, all inchoate rage and flailing limbs, falling right on top of you.
Viewers of “Don’t Look Up” (which begs to be called “Just Don’t Watch!”) will shrug if not yawn. It takes nearly 40 minutes of this bloated 140-minute comedy for this much to unfold, and there are far too few laughs.
McKay’s movies are not particularly pointed in their satire and, as time has gone on, have increasingly settled into their preferred form of a harangue. He seems to believe that people need laughs and famous faces to be lured into thinking about more pressing matters, and he hates them for it. And yet it’s hard to think about who, exactly, is going to be moved to make changes to how they live their lives by Don’t Look Up, a climate-change allegory that acquired accidental COVID-19 relevance, but that doesn’t really end up being about much at all, beyond that humanity sucks.
And here’s a bit of the review from LA Weekly:
Remember when McKay was making movies like Step Brothers? Now he’s making movies like Vice and Don’t Look Up, glib, unfunny infomercials that are closer to Ted Talks than Talladega Nights…
There’s something to be said for piercing reality with humor, rubbing our faces in horrible realities while confronting them with an amusing point-of-view. But the nastiness and negativity here just makes the filmmaker come off like a jerk. At the end of Don’t Look Up, you’re left feeling agitated and angry– not at Republicans, but at McKay for making such a dismal affair.
There are of course reviewers that liked the film but it currently has a 55% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. The film does better with the audience score (77%) so some people enjoyed it, including just about everyone who watched it for this Buzzfeed group-review. But it’s fair to say a lot of reviewers found it preachy, overlong and not funny.
One of the problem may be that the film goes all in on a climate change analogy which isn’t a very good climate change analogy. Over at the Intelligencer, Eric Levitz goes into the reasons why it doesn’t work at some length.
Most of Don’t Look Up’s deficiencies as a climate parable derive from a simple fact: Climate change isn’t really analogous to a planet-killer comet.
McKay hit upon this analogy in a conversation with the left-wing journalist David Sirota. And one can understand the metaphor’s appeal: Like climate change, a comet can threaten all of humanity, reveal itself first to scientists, and become more difficult to address the longer that action is delayed. Unlike climate change, however, a comet operates in a manner and timescale conducive to a Hollywood narrative. Whereas the former threatens a diffuse, nonlinear, and gradual worsening of ecological conditions, the latter presents a clear-cut ticking-time-bomb scenario: Knock the space rock off its path and all is saved; act too late and a fiery apocalypse destroys everything in an instant.
Climate change is not remotely like this. Contrary to rhetoric popular with some progressive politicians and social-media users, climate change provides us with neither a hard deadline nor a clean binary between success and failure…
In Don’t Look Up, Isherwell argues that mining the comet will facilitate the abolition of poverty. This is portrayed as the specious rationalization of a self-interested villain. But in the real world, there is a genuine trade-off between minimizing climate risk and maximizing near-term human welfare. Don’t Look Up’s obsession with America’s decadent consumerism is, in some respects, narcissistic. The United States has contributed more to the climate crisis than any other nation. But it will likely account for only about 5 percent of global emissions over the coming century. The battle for a sustainable planet will be won or lost in the global South, where carbon-intensive growth is still needed for much more than improved smartphones. More than 700 million humans still don’t have electricity in their homes. In China and India, carbon-powered growth has been steadily liberating the global poor from grievous deprivations. Technological breakthroughs should eventually make it possible to reconcile the competing goods of mitigating climate risk and lifting global living standards. But they aren’t here yet…
Decarbonizing the American economy is a vital endeavor. But drastically cutting our nation’s exceptionally high per capita emissions will require Americans to accept policy changes that impinge on our lives a lot more than a nuclear-missile launch. Minimizing agricultural emissions requires people to eat less (non-lab-grown) meat. Reducing household emissions requires municipalities to tolerate the construction of high-rise housing developments near mass transit. Dramatically increasing public investment in the green transition will require higher taxes or, in the short run, higher inflation.
And for certain U.S. communities, the costs of a rapid transition would be especially profound. Late in Don’t Look Up, Dibiasky returns to her blue-collar hometown, where her parents promptly condemn her politics. “Your father and I are for the jobs the comet will provide,” her mother explains. This is the film’s sole (metaphorical) representation of working-class opposition to climate action. And it casts that opposition as insane.
There’s a lot more but hopefully you get the gist. The film makes climate change an existential threat to all life and thereby reduces the real trade-offs involved in this issue into a series of jokes in which only the dumbest of rubes could possibly be against drastic, immediate action. In real life, the trade-offs are what matters. Keeping fossil fuels in the ground may sound sensible to a bunch of Hollywood leftists but in many parts of the world it means people will continue to rely on wood fires to cook their food. Ranting against consumerism may please progressive partisans but I doubt anyone involved in this film is denying themselves a few indulgences in the real world. Here’s how Leanardo DiCaprio spent New Year’s Eve this year:
It was the place to be in St. Barts.
Leonardo DiCaprio, Jeff Bezos and partner Lauren Sanchez, plus Drake were just a few of the A-list names who partied at club king Richie Akiva, Ernesto Bertarelli, and Darren Dzienciol’s New Year’s Eve bash on the ritzy island.
We hear the night started with a dinner at Akiva’s, but then moved to Swiss billionaire Bertarelli’s $150 million, 315-foot yacht, Vava II, at around 1:30 a.m.
I guess this is a case of do as I say, not as I do.