I was on the fence about whether or not I wanted to talk about this film. I hesitated because I like to use these ‘Friday Finds’ posts usually to showcase things that you might not have come across. I’m definitely not opposed to talking about big budget Hollywood movies or famous books (regular readers will know that I definitely have in the past!), but I like to shine a light on worthy, slightly lesser known things whenever possible. That’s what the ‘finds’ in ‘Friday Finds’ is all about: finding cool things that are maybe slightly under the radar. And a film with Leo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence could never be described as ‘under the radar’. (Apparently it’s also the second most-watched Netflix film in the company’s history!) That being said, this film has been running through my mind a lot recently because it left me with such mixed feelings. And I’d really like to talk about it!
Since this is such a popular film at the moment, I feel like chances are most people reading this will have seen a trailer or heard about it. But just in case: this is a satirical movie starring the aforementioned Leo and JLaw (do people call her that? I feel like I read that in a magazine or something. It sounds very goofy but let’s go with it!). They both play scientists who discover that a giant asteroid is heading for Earth and when they warn the political establishment in D.C about it, the president does…nothing. We’re all in imminent peril and nobody cares. It’s a very obvious allegory for climate change, which becomes increasingly more obvious as the film progresses. There’s also an array of other celebrities in it (like a weirdly huge amount?) from Meryl Streep to Timothee Chalamet to Ariana Grande. With a bit of Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett thrown in for good measure. It reminded me of Love Actually in that sense and I just kept wondering how much it cost to pay all of these mega stars. It’s written by Adam McKay whose most famous films include goofy Will Farrell comedies Anchorman and Talledega Nights.
So let’s start with what works about the film: DiCaprio and Lawrence are incredibly well cast. I think both of these people are extremely talented actors, especially her (if you need proof, just check out Winter’s Bone). More than that, I think their characters are well-suited to them: she’s a slightly edgy, no-nonsense grad student who becomes increasingly desperate for people to believe her and he’s a nerdy scientist-turned-celeb and they both pull these off super well. I remember reading in Lauren Graham’s book Talking as Fast as I Can (love her, but not a great book btw) that there’s a myth that actors should be able to ‘do it all’ when in reality most actors are good at a couple of things and that’s totally fine. I completely agree. Jennifer Lawrence as this scrappy kind of anti-establishment underdog girl trying to get a break reminded me a bit of her character in Hunger Games, a bit of her character in Joy. But that’s fine! She’s great.
The other thing that I loved most about this film was that it was about climate change. It’s not a serious film, but it takes its material seriously. More than anything it’s about climate change denial (more on that in a second) and how self-serving people in power are not acting, even though it’s basically too late. In fact some climate scientists have enjoyed the film and said the scientists’ desperate pleas for the world to do something about this huge asteroid remind them of their own experience talking about climate change. Frankly, I just felt relieved watching the film, to be quite honest. The satire of social media, of a lot of modern media in general, was pretty spot on to me, and I’m inclined to agree with this review in Jacobin that said: “much of our political elite are just as greedy and foolish, our media just as vapid, and our response to impending disaster exactly as mind-bogglingly irrational as in the movie.”
Quite frankly, I don’t even know what to say, think, or write about climate change at this point because I’m so frightened, furious, and flabbergasted that we’ve not done more to stop it. That’s truly how I feel. And this movie captures that feeling.
And I actually found parts of the film, especially the ending, to be not only moving but almost transcendent. Perhaps because I was watching the film at home with my family, but I was very, very moved by one of the final scenes, where a family gathers together for a meal, knowing full well that the world is about to end and there’s nothing they can do to stop it. That moment alone, to me, made the film so human and very much worth seeing.
Now that we’ve touched on what works about the film, I would like to mention that its satire of Trump and Trumpism really didn’t land well for me and felt far too simplistic. It also made it seem like the Trump-like President was the whole cause of this problem, her ignorance and lack of action, when actually the target of the satire should be much, much wider. Towards the end it felt that the film was patronizing me a little bit (which I hate) and trying to really make it SUPER clear who and what exactly they were satirizing. I think some more trust in the material, and less over-explaining, would have done the film some good.
That being said: it’s a funny movie. And it’s got an important point to make. I just worry that only people who already know and fear climate change will see it. But maybe it’s at least a start of a trend that more mainstream films will deal with this topic. And that is a powerful thing. Stories change people’s hearts and minds. When Dickens wanted to write an appeal to people about the plight of London’s poor, instead he wrote A Christmas Carol, because he knew a story would connect with them more. There are already many excellent works of art about climate change, but few with such a high profile as Don’t Look Up. For that reason alone, I’m glad it exists. More please, I say. Keep them coming.
Thanks as always for reading and have a wonderful weekend.
PS Today’s featured image is a ‘view of the Earth’ taken during ISS Expedition 62 (in 2020), it comes from the NASA Johnson Space Center and was accessed via Wikimedia.