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Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up

It doesn't matter whether you look up or not if you tell yourself
it's either not happening or how can I make money from this?

dir: Adam McKay


Don’t Look Up. It’s not satire; it’s a documentary.

It’s not a documentary of what’s happened in the past or what brought us as a species to this point: It’s a document of why humanity’s narcissism, greed, laziness, stupidity, and willingness to swallow lies, no matter how transparently false, will not only doom our own species, but many others.

People, told the truth about what changes climate change will bring upon the planet, either collectively shrug their shoulders and keep doing what they’re doing, or actively try to find ways to make things worse. Of course, this being an American film, it’s about the general stupidity and venality of American society, that would rather jerk off to the latest celebrity gossip than spend a second thinking about reality, but let’s not pretend any other countries, including our own with its coal-hugging prime ministers, are any less fucking dumb, venal and corrupt.

Worst of all, which could be one of the reasons why the reviews have been so savage, is the media landscape that aids and abets this mentality of outrage algorithms and clickbait making stories about Real Housewives shenanigans and pop singer breakups resonating far more deeply with people than anything to do with global catastrophic climate change. In the form of two tv hosts played by Tyler Perry and an almost terrifyingly unrecognisable Cate Blanchett, the media is depicted as so uninterested in any truth, and so focused on maintaining a pleasant and comfortable illusion that ALL IS WELL, JUST KEEP CONSUMING is the only message they have to give us, all of the time.

Yes, the film is about a comet hurtling towards the earth, initially with 6 months notice before it arrives, as a metaphor for climate change. But it’s really about this fucked up society that will either ignore the problem until it’s too late, try to profit from it, or deliberately sabotage mitigations because, hey, humans have a death wish. The people who discover the comet, two astronomers, (Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio) tell this fact to anyone who’ll listen. They can confirm that it’s happening, that it’s coming. No-one really believes them, but a few people are uneasy about it. Bit concerned.

They tell their sorry tale to advisers to the president (Meryl Streep, playing the worst fusion of Hillary Clinton and the former orange fucker that you’re ever likely to see), and then to the president herself, who doesn’t believe them, who disputes the very idea of statistics, statistical results or empirical evidence, and shushes them, being more concerned with upcoming elections and her ex-pornstar boyfriend that she wants to install on the Supreme Court, and they make the concerted decision to pretend it’s not happening at all.

The two scientists feel compelled to tell the world anyway, and do so, and it ends up making a star of Dr Mindy and a villain of his PhD student Kate Dibiasky. He becomes a popular media figure, a reassuring presence, as the government tries to cobble together a solution that will divert the comet and prevent it from ending life on the planet as we know it.

Really, though, the government coopts him to use his credibility for its own ends, which have nothing to do with stopping the comet. And of course he ends up in the position where he’s asked to say and do more outlandish shit because, hell, if he doesn’t do it, someone worse will! Plus he is literally seduced by the media in the form of Blanchett’s loathsome FoxBot tv host, who is sleeping with him only because he’s now famous.

In this world, this absurd world little different from our own, there is a tech CEO adored and admired by the little people. His smart phone technology dominates the marketplace, but his presence and his shiny, plastic, too bright teeth blind the masses, convincing them somehow that he knows more than they do because they give their money to him, and not vice versa. Someone that rich has to be a genius, right? And something that benefits his business surely would be the right path to take for everyone, yeah?

I think this idea is referred to as techno-optimism, which we hear every time a politician says something like “technology will be developed that will not only reverse the impact of climate change, but also make us all rich and make our breasts larger and penises thicker”. That the problem, being the impact of centuries of industrialisation and its horrific pollution, and the impact it’s had on the planet, will also somehow be the solution, is an irony lost on the Musks, wannabe Steve Jobses and Jeffrey Bezoses of this world. And it’s entirely lost on Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) as well, who thinks everything he yells at some underling to develop an untested prototype for will doubtless save the day because…

As analogies go, it’s important to point out that the one about the sinking of the Titanic is an enduring one. The film goes out of its way to represent all the levels of stupidity and selfishness that ensue with the impact of climate change, if you think of it as being trapped on the Titanic, but it adds a new wrinkle, which is probably closer in terms of commentary to the insane approach in much of the States with regards to the coronavirus.

Okay, so a disaster is happening, like the sinking of the Titanic; the iceberg’s been struck, the unsinkable ship is going down. There are those that will justify saving themselves and letting everyone else die. There are those that will find time to try to sell ice cubes to people before almost everyone drowns, just so they can die with more money in their pockets than they had before.

There are those who will somehow imagine profit in making the ship sink quicker, or by drilling holes in the lifeboats. Others will convince people “fuck this “women and children first” bullshit, the future’s for the rich” so they’ll actively start trying to drown people themselves.

Others will stand there on a tilting deck, and convince people going into the water than the ship isn’t sinking, and that drowning is an invention of either the Jews or the left wing media, and they will have almost half of the passengers agree with them. The other half won’t believe it, since they’ve started drowning, but can’t convince anyone to do anything meaningful because they don’t want to impact on the (union) jobs of the people shoveling coal into the boilers powering the sinking ship.

The ones not swayed by either argument will either “do their own research”, or say something like “maybe both sides of the argument about whether we’re drowning have their merits” as they start drowning.

Eventually, silence will reign, a small percentage skate through, the lone whistle of that woman who murdered Jack is heard, as she selfishly floats atop that door by herself, when everyone knows there was room for both of them on the door, but she had to keep that giant diamond to herself, so no room for Rose, Jack and the Star of the Sea, huh?

The title of the film comes from an actual movement started by the loathsome president and her even more loathsome Don Junior-like coked up son (Jonah Hill, as annoying as always), abjuring their supporters to literally not look up at the comet that’s hurtling towards them.

And a lot of them go along with it, because what better way to belong to a tribe that gives your life meaning than to believe a lie so profoundly stupid that you have to go to rallies to display your gullibility in numbers too big to ignore with other people similarly ill-equipped to accept basic reality, like, that a virus can be worse than the purported vaccine?

Yes, sure, it’s an absurd comedy, which isn’t really that funny, because a lot of this shit is just so fucking depressing, and yes it’s about as subtle as Idiocracy in its depiction of a deeply stupid populace and the even worse people who dominate them. But the films people mention that this homages or rips off, like Network or Dr Strangelove were in no way subtle satires of corporate tv news, US politics or the Cold War at all. They had one insane general called Ripper who thought the Communists were stealing people’s Precious Bodily Fluids, and another guy riding a nuclear bomb waving his hat and screaming “Yee ha!” as it plummets to the ground.

Network was even less subtle than that. It has a tv network exploiting a character’s mental breakdown for ratings, and two characters introducing themselves to each other by saying something like “HI, I’m a racist lackey of the ruling imperialist circles” or the line about urging people to run to their windows and scream about being mad as hell, and not taking it any more.

This flick has people screaming in despair at the camera, unable to believe the relentless venality of the people around them, but mostly they’re believed. The people that believe them the most are the people that work against them the most.

It also parodies those films where a crew of lumberjacks or oil riggers save the world with a ‘solution’ right out of Armageddon, and a racist hero astronaut (superbly played by Ron Perlman) only to have that ‘solution’ fail not because it wasn’t going to work, but because someone convinces the president that the comet that is coming to destroy all life is worth trillions of dollars.

That is meant to be funny, I guess, but it’s all too believable.

And this flick is far more despairing, and, on the most part, more believable because the media and corporate landscape is far worse now than anything previously imagined. At least before reporters would report on what had actually happened. Now they report on what people say might have happened, and You Won’t Believe What They Did Next after they tweeted about it or did an Insta update about it.

People’s opinions, be they powerful people or celebrities or nobodies enjoying their 15 seconds of relevance, have transcended factual reporting about what’s actually happening in the world, because, well, there’s a million reasons, but we as consumers don’t exactly reject the business model. We reward the Murdochs and Fairfaxes of the world with our money, eyeballs and clicks because none of us want to exchange any of our comforts in order to prevent what’s happening, preferring to somehow believe that the industrial processes required to produce the renewable energy tech that’s going to ‘save’ us somehow isn’t making things worse.

It’s… too much to think about. The performances are fine for what is essentially a farce, and the same people who shill for corporate interests and fossil fuel industries would still have hated this film even if it hadn’t been so scathing towards the people with the dumbest and most violently stupid takes on these matters. It doesn’t matter.

For all its cynical coldness, the ending manages to be warm-hearted and touching in a way that maybe the flick didn’t earn, but it worked really well for me, people reminding themselves and each other than, in the face of catastrophe, hold hands with the people closest to you, make amends, be grateful for what you had (even if that includes a brief fling with a skate punk somehow plausibly played by Timothee Chalamet).

But because they couldn’t’ leave it there, the flick wedges in two more tasteless endings which, I guess, are meant to cap off this absurdly depressingly believable fiction with one science fiction-y ending meaning the richest and most venal still won’t somehow survive, and, lastly, through the credits, the worst possible person being the last survivor on Earth.

Ew. Anyway, we had a good run, I feel like saying. We were doing okay up until around the Enlightenment. After that though…

8 times if a problem seems insurmountable or hard to fix, just ignore it and either it’ll go away, or we will out of 10

“You guys, the truth is way more depressing. They are not even smart enough to be as evil as you're giving them credit for.” - Don’t Look Up