Don’t Look Up: The Movie that Kindles the Media

Picture of By Alexa Ciociu

By Alexa Ciociu

A satire to our politicized world, a sci-fi drama, or pure reality? Don’t Look Up, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, is the new Netflix blockbuster directed by Adam McKay that generated a lot of buzz among critics, viewers, and the press since its debut on the streaming platform, and continues to do so while keeping a leader position on Netflix’s Global Top 10. What’s so striking about it is that it keeps you on your toes from the opening scene up until the end, leaving you irritated, and maybe a bit anxious about what’s in store for us.

When you think about the ‘end of the world’, can you imagine it as something palpable and not that distant from us? Or were these words encoded long ago as yet another conspiracy theory that you so blatantly will choose to ignore to avoid any mass hysteria that is yet to come with it? Well, spoiler alert: choosing the second option can (and most probably will) mean the end to humanity.

In case you need a refresher, allow me to dive in and recap the plot of the movie: two astronomers, PhD student Kate Dibiasky and her teacher Dr. Randall Mindy, discover a planet-killing comet that is quickly approaching Earth. With only 6 months left to prepare for the disaster, the two of them go above and beyond by presenting the data to the White House, making multiple appearances in a morning show, and ultimately starting the ‘Just Look Up!’ movement as a last resort in the hope of opening people’s eyes. Needless to say, the comet becomes just another distraction in the political arena, and the so-called gladiators of politics get too caught up in their own games and interests. As per usual, they make great efforts to cover the truth, and, thanks to the power of media, they manage to hide the obvious from their audience by merely telling their followers ‘don’t look up’.

This sounds pretty fictional and it might make us think that we could never fall for such a lousy strategy. Who, us? Susceptible to whatever media has to tell us? Well, it happens more often than we might want to believe. As much as some media outlets are trying to adopt a neutral and inclusive tone, we must agree that it is rare to see quality news, especially in our digitalized world. Once the algorithms learn our likes and dislikes, we are (literally) served the news that best suits our own ideology, hindering us from ever seeing certain angles of a story unless we specifically ask for it. This is when the media can take a break from all the hard work: it managed to divide us!

So, What Happens When We become Polarized?

There are a few possibilities, but I would like to elaborate on only a couple of them. Don’t Look Up presents the following ideology: the people who are way too critical of whatever media serves them, who transform into cynics and filter the information to their liking, thus creating their own reality. Unfortunately, this option has very catastrophic outcomes as it leads to mass obliviousness and ultimately to collective panic. The second option is becoming (or aspiring to become) the astronomer – those who look for facts and act. And this is when the split materializes.

As we can see in the movie, the world quickly splits between the believers and the non-believers of Comet Dibiasky. Media becomes merely the channel that segregates the two groups and is ultimately responsible for spreading misinformation and failing to mobilize the world towards one common goal, despite all the data showing the horrifying truth.  

We are so used to seeing these kinds of events becoming pawns in the politicians’ power games, that we sometimes forget as well what’s really at stake.

It’s not hard to see similarities between the film and the reality we are all living in: from the Black Lives Matter protests to the current Climate Movement, or even to the pandemic. We are so used to seeing these kinds of events becoming pawns in the politicians’ power games, that we sometimes forget as well what’s really at stake.

However, are we to blame? Don’t Look Up puts great emphasis on the priorities of politicians and businessmen, and how their interests are taken care of by anyone who can also benefit. This movie is a truly eye-opening experience, a satire to our world where every issue, regardless of its magnitude, becomes of political interest.

What about the Critics?

It might be surprising to hear that most of the articles written on Don’t Look Up are more of a debate between authors of well-known publications, such as Independent UK, The Guardian, or The New York Times, praising or criticizing the film.

However, the movie also received hard backlash from some critics, which McKay quickly addressed on his Twitter account by blaming their lack of morality and incapability of understanding the seriousness of the climate crisis: “If you don’t have at least a small ember of anxiety about the climate collapsing (or the US teetering), I’m not sure Don’t Look Up makes any sense. It’s like a robot viewing a love story.” This led to even more backlash as some Twitter users came to defend the film, while others articulated that the quality of a movie is not related to the gravity of the theme it portrays.

However, regardless of the amateurs’ opinions on the movie, Don’t Look Up has already received four Golden Globe nominations and it is expected that it will make an appearance at the Oscars as well, so keep an eye on that.

What is Left Now?

Regardless of the strong feelings that some might have towards this movie, I believe that anyone can find some meaning behind it and identify with the story. Don’t Look Up is merely a reflection of our society, be it a bit more dramatic than we are used to, however still accurate. The story, delivered as a satire-comedy, manages to induce a high level of discomfort to the viewer, and to me, personally, it created a feeling of agitation and ire. Nonetheless, it left me amazed at how naïve and easily vulnerable we are. If you think about it, maybe the astronomers were simply a metaphor: they are those who aim to see further than what’s merely in front of them, and maybe we should also aspire to see further than what’s put in front of us. 



Cover: Netflix

Edited by Debby Mogot

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