By Jay Darcy
Let me begin by asking an important question: was this movie edited by the same people who edited Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody? If I had a shot every time a scene was cut mid-sentence, I’d need my stomach pumped. That’s the only real criticism I have of this movie, though. Sure, there are problems with the movie as a movie, but this movie is more than just a movie. In a way, it’s an anti-movie.
It’s unsurprising, then, that it has received mixed reviews from critics. I’d argue, however, that those critics are missing the entire point of the film. To focus on things such as cinematography is reductive, for this film is more than just cinema. I’d also add that the way they have discussed (and criticised) the film is proving that point: it illustrates the issues that the film is trying to draw attention to. Some of the criticisms look like they belong in the film itself. Don’t Look Up is by no means a masterpiece, but it’s arguably the most important movie of the year.
The movie has also been attacked by the Right, unsurprisingly, given its many allusions to President Trump and his (mis)handling of the pandemic. However, given the film was actually written prior to the pandemic, the dismissive stances adopted by both the fictional President Orlean’s (Meryl Streep) and the not so fictional Mr Trump in the face of natural disaster, is frighteningly accidental. Life imitates art, but that’s what this movie is: a reflection of real-life.
I mentioned Meryl Streep – she’s one of many well-known actors in this film, which is crammed with characters, all well-written and well-acted but criminally underdeveloped. Each character is an archetype, shedding light on a different culture or subculture be it celebrity culture or proto-anarchy. The cast alone is sure to attract audiences. I just hope those viewers can get past the flaws of the movie and lack of character development and see through the glossy aesthetic of this Hollywood epic.
People on the Right love to complain about “woke” movies and TV, from the most recent incarnation of Doctor Who to the new film version of West Side Story. They can scream “woke” (their new favourite buzzword since they tired of being unable to define “Marxist”) as much as they like, but putting a message in a movie is not a new phenomenon. All art is meaningful – if there isn’t meaning, it isn’t art.
In an era of fake news and alternative facts, the movie offers a groundbreaking analysis of misinformation and a cutting portrayal concerning the collapse of journalism as a pillar of accountability and truth. Is it any surprise, then, that many in the media are not so fond of the movie?
Whilst some might criticise the movie for suggesting Americans are dumb sheep – and by “some”, I’m obviously referring to Americans – they’re missing the finer details. Don’t Look Up explores the catastrophic consequences when the pursuit of profit is made more important than the protection of people. Do I need to remind you how much richer the rich have gotten since the pandemic began? The movie shines a light on how billionaires (and celebrities) manipulate us into trusting them. Think about all of the ordinary people swooning over Elon Musk and Donald Trump (if he really is a billionaire, that is).
And whilst the American Right enjoys electing celebrities to the White House, the adoration of billionaires and celebrities is not a partisan issue. The film masterfully explores this in President Orlean. Proudly displaying her photo with Mariah Carey in the Oval Office, constantly referring back to her high approval ratings and cynically appropriating the impending disaster by creating a pop song about it with the virulent celebrity Riley Bina (Ariana Grande) are but a few of her repellent misdeeds which so satirise this brand of celebrity president.There are plenty of real-life parallels – think Ellen DeGeneres espousing a “Be Nice” mantra on air before going home and screaming at her staff, or Leonardo Dicaprio flying in a private jet whilst preaching about climate change (and starring in this movie).
Ostensibly, Don’t Look Up is a satire, and it’s really quite funny. It perfectly encapsulates both public and political indifference to crises. On a deeper level, the movie is a horror, it’s horribly horrifying, because it’s a horrific reflection of real-life: a horror. Humanity is facing an impending crisis (anthropogenic climate change), and we’re doing nothing. In just a few decades, the planet as we know it could cease to exist, and we’re all just sat here on Insta, scrolling: “Oh, look, those wilful wazzocks from Love Island have broken up”, as if anybody actually gives a flying faeces.
Heck, we have people who deny climate change even exists. The same for coronavirus. We have people refusing to get vaccinated because they think medical professionals are going to inject us with microchips – and they say that whilst carrying the latest mobile phones. The lack of self-awareness is astounding.
The lame-brained response from many to this movie proves its point, and I – ever the cynic – wonder if it’s further proof that we’ve had our time. Perhaps we’re beyond saving (the Earth certainly seems to be). Perhaps the only good humanity is a humanity that ceases to exist.
But whilst the movie presents an event so catastrophic that we’d die instantly, the reality is that we will suffer and suffer for years before our death. We’ll suffer so much that we will dream of death. Whilst the British Right uses this dumb metaphor of a sinking island to argue against the acceptance of asylum seekers – who will only increase with further climate change – they’ll be in for a nasty shock when our indifference to the climate crisis sees our island literally sink into the ocean.
This movie, if anything, is a warning. So, I beg you, watch it and listen: Just. Look. Up.
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