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28th December 2021

Don’t Look Up: No need for subtlety in McKay’s perfect satire for the modern world

Full of black humour and intentional heavy-handedness, Don’t Look Up is a hilarious satire for our times and a wake-up call for humanity.
Don’t Look Up: No need for subtlety in McKay’s perfect satire for the modern world
Photo: Pixabay

Adam McKay’s latest is an instant attention grabber. With its star-studded cast (DiCaprio, Lawrence, Streep, Blanchett, Chalamet, to name only a few), Don’t Look Up is one of Netflix’s main awards players of the year, a film set for widespread success. Despite poorly edited trailers and lack of critical acclaim, it proved to be a hilarious satire for our times and one of the most important films to come out of Hollywood in recent years.

The story follows an astronomer and university professor Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his grad student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), who discovers a comet about to hit the Earth directly, a planet killer large enough to wipe out all human life. Being the first ones to know about the imminent danger, the two embark on a journey to warn the media and politicians. Going from newspapers to White House offices to TV stations, they’re met with disregard and made fun of, struggling to find anyone who would take them seriously and start acting to save the planet.

Although McKay began working on the project before the coronavirus pandemic, the similarities are glaring. Ignorance from American political elites and masses who question whether the discovered comet even exists, it all seems almost too real. From yet another wake-up call for the world, this time more straightforward than ever, Don’t Look Up morphs into a frustration-fuelled satirical analysis of everything that happened in America in the past years. 

The president of the United States, a conservative played by Meryl Streep and an obvious parody of Donald Trump, becomes interested in the comet only when she discovers she can use it to her political advantage. Meanwhile, the billionaires of the world, symbolised here by Mark Rylance’s character, the weirdest combination of Steve Jobs, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg imaginable, only look at the life-threatening danger in terms of potential profits.


Don’t Look Up Trailer

Above all the jokes, there’s a constant palpable sense of a looming disaster, with Nicholas Britell’s haunting score never letting the viewer feel safe or at peace. Even when the ‘villains’ of the films deliver their wittiest punchlines, the fear of the approaching comet is never forgotten, even for a brief moment.

Using pitch-black humour and intentional heavy-handedness, Adam McKay pokes fun at politics, media, Hollywood, and the public, combining it all into one clear-cut and engaging narrative. It works as a clever commentary on the coronavirus pandemic and the way it’s been handled in the US, but also as a universal satire on the modern world in general, without a need for specific points of reference. It paints the world in bleak colours, stripping away any kind of hope that humanity could ever come as one. Because if a scientifically-proven threat to the existence of all of humankind is as divisive an issue as everything else, what could possibly make people unite?

Don’t Look Up is two and a half hours of hilarious satire, a highly entertaining laugh-through-tears approach to being troubled by ubiquitous decay and ignorance. It is aware of its straightforwardness and embraces its forceful nature, being consciously built around that approach; after all, there is nothing subtle about the end of the world. 

Above all that, it is a film fully aware of its limitations, ultimately recognising that, sometimes, however much we try and however right we are, we will remain powerless.


Don’t Look Up was released on Netflix on the 24th of December.

Michal Wasilewski

Michal Wasilewski

Managing Editor of Culture for The Mancunion.

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