Doomsday films are no stranger to us. The end of times has donned several faces and served many iterations up to us on film. And yet, Adam Mckay’s film gives us a doomsday film that reveals how those earlier films that end with human triumph may simply be a symptom of our collective denial.
The World is Ending
Movies, and art are often required and expected to be a portrait of the times, gone by or present. With Don’t Look Up, we have a film that is crackling with a purpose that we haven’t quite seen with this conviction before. Along with the director, the cast has clearly committed to treating us to sharp edges.
The concept of the world ending is no stranger to us; we have certainly been treated to many threats in our lifetime. But hardly any have whipped us into a frenzy of do-good responsibility that the humans seem to have in such movies. In Don’t Look Up, the world is ending because of a comet set to hit the Earth in 6 months. A comet that is sure to cause worldwide extinction of our species and every other that roams the planet. But even after the science is verified a hundred times over, there is no urgency amongst the characters of the film, other than in the scientists.
The film chooses a specific and seemingly undeniable cause of our extinction. A singular entity, rather than a gradual phenomenon that shows symptoms in fits and bursts. But the comet is invisible to the eye and too far away in space. If we are capable of doubting a virus that has us dropping to the ground, the invisible comet can easily be ignored.
The 21st Century Response
Adam Mckay is brutal and incisive as he depicts the aftermath of Comet Dibiasky’s announcement to the world. From memes to internet challenges, talk show hosts that flirt with the handsome scientist, and Americans who deny the existence of the comet, we may as well be watching a documentary of our times.
There are moments when our rigid scientists, played by Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, give up. We watch them falter as they realize no one cares, that nobody can stop thinking about their life after the comet is supposed to hit, and that no one is willing to let everything go and focus on saving the planet and, consequently, themselves. It is difficult to watch, even though it is accompanied by a steady vein of humor. The humor does not cheer us up, because we know that we are not watching a film whose characters and events we can separate ourselves from. It is almost like the humor is put there to lure us in, making us laugh along to our own destined doom.
Towards the end of the film, we finally see the meaning and genius of the film’s title. Because eventually, the threat will become undeniable, and the comet will shine in the sky we look up at. And finally, we think, ultimately, the people will understand. All the people.
But this is our world of complicated, stubborn, and remarkably individual human beings. A wave of people springs up, whose slogan is ‘Don’t Look Up.’ Deny, deny, deny. Ignore even the comet up in the sky because we have had this world for thousands and millions of years. It will not be stolen from us or destroyed. It couldn’t be. We are too powerful.
But there are few who do know, and do accept the truth. Few who fight until the very last moment that they can, hoping somewhere that if not America, another country will do the right thing. And when all efforts fail, every human must choose their spot on the Earth to make their last stand. Quietly, in comfort and love and good food, or in violence or inches deep in denial still.
Don’t Look Up is not a kind movie, but perhaps, one of the bravest and most honest to demand our attention in recent times. The film is streaming on Netflix.