Why Netflix’s Don’t Look Up is Popular
This Science Fiction Comedy About a Large Comet Striking the Earth Alludes to Climate Change more.
WARNING: Includes Spoilers
After Christmas I had the chance to find a new comedy on Netflix called “Don’t Look Up” a satirical comedy about how Americans would react if a comet the size of Mount Everest was hurdling towards the Earth. And it was excellent. So good that one-third of a billion people have seen this film.
The film gives the viewer a unique perspective through the eyes of three leading astrologists who warn the public through mainstream media that seems obsessed with ratings and the President of the United States who only listens to the interests of corporate America. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Doctor Randall Mindy a brilliant professor of astronomy (who likely has high functioning autism) and Ph.D. graduate student Kate Dibliasky (Jennifer Lawrence) who one night discover a large comet heading directly towards earth with several months until it impacts. Throughout the movie we see both scientists trying their best to convey the seriousness of the emergency from the President Orlean (Meryl Streep) to the mainstream news media that consistently downplays the event until it becomes a ratings driver.
While many in establishment media circles are baffled or angered by the satire film poking fun at everyone from journalists downplaying the crisis to money in politics, here are the reasons why this movie resonates with the public.
By far the biggest central theme to the movie alludes to climate change and the survival of every living creature on this planet. Much like the comet hurtling towards our blue planet at incomprehensible speeds our planet is also warming at incomprehensible speeds. While snow and ice represent 1.7% of all fresh water on earth, 68.7% of it is held in glaciers and ice caps. Over 4.8 billion people rely on fresh water supplied by the snow and ice that is rapidly melting all over the world.
Much like the comet in the film it’s a disaster that is approaching us and we seem to be doing almost nothing as the emergency gets worse every year. Last week a fire erupted about one-hundred miles south of San Francisco. In January! Last month the entire city of Boulder Colorado was evacuated because of a fast-moving ferocious fire. In December! Seven months earlier the cable car wires for streetcars melted with 116-degree temperatures in Portland Oregon and all the spring snow melted off of Mount Rainier within four days causing the fastest melt in over one hundred years. As the Seattle area sweltered in triple digit heat it instantly cooked billions of clams alive directly impacting the state’s $1 billion industry. Much like the film alludes to it directly ties into climate change along with another theme.
The Corporate Media
One of the main problems with the corporate media is a preference for ratings rather than reporting on facts that directly impacts human life. And nowhere is this more evident that in the Daily Rip segment.
As the movie progresses, we see Mindy and Dibliosky discover that neither the White House nor the New York Times-ish paper will take them seriously. Through various connections they do find one network that will take them on, but there’s a catch. They have to keep it short, light, and “fun” the opposite of what they were expecting. And they only have a three-minute window.
Doctor Mindy is somewhat tongue tied because he seems unaccustomed to tv appearances (there’s a strong case that he has high functioning autism) and comes across as smart but socially awkward. As the hosts are trying to turn the conversation towards lighter topics, he gently touches his associate Dibliosky and pleads with her with his eyes to help him convey the seriousness of the situation in a way the general public would understand. Reluctantly the Ph.D. graduate student does explain what she saw hoping that the hosts will ask intellectually curious questions about the size of the comet, how to prepare and what we should be doing.
Instead, after she says its heading directly towards Earth, she’s gob smacked when the host (Tyler Perry) says “That sounds very exciting” and as the same host begins joking about having a comet hit his ex-wife’s home, she jumps in with how tone-deaf the hosts seem. “I’m sorry are we not being clear? We’re trying to tell you that the entire planet is about to be destroyed.” Many of the frustrations she expresses are evident with many in the scientific community around the globe where 97% of them agree that climate change is an existential threat to our human race.
But the brilliant part about the movie is that it’s not just about climate change. According to director Adam Mckay he says it’s about income inequality, corruption, and a lack of issues being discussed by an increasingly corporatized press that treats everything as neutral instead of objective. Mckay discusses how the job of the media is keep the population well informed based on scientific consensus and facts not sensationalism that the press often covers over relevant issues. And he’s right the press promoted Trump with over two billion dollars in free media in 2016 yet there was almost no discussion about climate change. In September 2020 over 330,000 acres burned in a 24 period in the normally moist state of Washington. Yet there was little national coverage of how terrifying the sudden the firestorm was as we experienced wind gusts nearly 45 mph knocking out the power to 80,000 people in Puget Sound as smoke poured over the Cascade mountains.
Corruption from Wealthy Donors
Corruption in American politics is prevalent as we saw recently with members of Congress getting caught using insider trading to cash in before the pandemic wiped out our savings. And this movie satirizes the problem with money in politics from super donors, it influences the decision of officials to choose wealth over the well-being of 330 million Americans.
Billionaire tech giant Bash is a Super donor to the President in this movie (who looks like a cross between Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos). At first the President seems to listen to the scientists and assigns Ron Perlman to man a mission that will blow the comet off course preventing a collision with Earth. But as soon the mission she authorizes begins leaving the launchpad Bash upon learning about hundreds of trillions worth of minerals on the comet convinces President Orlean to abort the mission.
It’s very clever way of alluding to our broken campaign finance system from Buckley v. Valeo to Citizen’s United v. FEC. Those decisions made it so that a billionaire has more influence in politics over the vote of a teacher and nurse. The scientists watch in horror as the mission is aborted and Orlean and Bash’s plan to mine the minerals is “bullshit.” The hilarious part of the movie is where Dr Mindy asks Bash a reasonable question about the success of his programs as a businessman and Bash is outraged that he dares calls him a “businessman” and jumps down his throat over a word instead of addressing the substance of his question. It truly highlights how inherently shallow or how much of a snowflake people with huge sums of wealth are when they are ever challenged.
“You think I’m just a businessman!” — Bash
Brief Glimpse of Animals and Wildlife
Normally a satire movie doesn’t really have a point other than to make fun of others, but this movie is a rare exception. Between scenes as the comet gets closer to earth there are scenes where brief glimpses of trees, birds, animals, and wildlife appear in the film. A brief glimpse of a hummingbird slowly feasting on the nectar of beautiful magenta colored flower and animals roaming around in wildlife remind us how lucky we are to coexist with them.
The film takes a unique twist be integrating clips of these beautiful creatures that current coexist with us. The main point of the movie is to tell a story of how rare and mesmerizing our planet really is and why we must do everything we can to preserve it for future generations. We only have one planet, to preserve it we have to force ourselves to finally look up if we want to survive as a species. As Ariane Grande said Just Look Up