(Today’s NaPoWriMo prompt was for a nonet, a nine-line poem where the first line has nine syllables and then each subsequent line has one syllable less. That reminded me of a countdown, so this film immediately came to mind.)
There’s nothing to worry about here,
No reason to panic and fear.
Don’t stress out any longer.
Don’t be a fearmonger.
Your warnings are lies
That jump through hoops,
While I’ll be
MPA rating: R (for frequent profanity, plus nudity at the very end)
There was a flurry of unexpected opinions around Adam McKay’s latest socio-political satire Don’t Look Up, with many critics describing its climate-change doomsday metaphor as “smug,” “unfunny,” and “cynical.” They granted it a 55% Rotten rating on Rotten Tomatoes, which is very rare for a modern Best Picture nominee. So I had to check it out for myself to see just how insufferable the environmentalist finger-wagging would be, and it turned out to be everything I’d heard but also a bit more.
There’s certainly no denying the star power on display. Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence play a pair of astronomers who discover both a new comet and the horrifying fact that it will collide with the earth within six months. As they try to publicize this oncoming extinction event, they are met with unexpected apathy from a slew of Oscar darlings, like Meryl Streep as the self-serving U.S. President Orlean, Jonah Hill as her arrogant son/Chief of Staff, Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry as the hosts of a frivolous morning show, and Mark Rylance as a Jobs-like CEO of a tech giant. Where the scientists had hoped the world would unite against humanity’s common threat, they become increasingly exasperated that no one seems to take the danger seriously, eventually devolving into a slogan war between “Just Look Up” and “Don’t Look Up.”
The weirdest thing about Don’t Look Up to me is that its central conceit just doesn’t work that well as an analogy for climate change. The six-month deadline, the mathematical provability of space dynamics, the potentially straightforward solution to destroy the comet, the moment when the comet becomes clearly visible in the night sky – all of these serve to heighten the stubborn foolishness of the apocalypse deniers in a way that just doesn’t align with climate change warnings. Oddly, since it was conceived before the pandemic even began, the film’s theme of wide-scale denial rings truer in regards to COVID, partisan myopia, and the spin on both sides of the aisle, perhaps in ways that were not even intended by the left-leaning people behind it.
Despite its clear intentions, Don’t Look Up has so many targets to roast that some of its jabs can’t help but land, whether it be the feel-good distraction of daytime talk shows, the fickle immaturity of social media frenzies, the allure of short-term fame, or the single-minded confidence of elites who refuse to let others point out where they’re wrong. To be honest, it’s not particularly funny for a “comedy,” and while a few running gags earned a chuckle, it was somewhat uncomfortable sitting through two hours of blithe apathy and even sabotage, despite the impassioned rants given by both Lawrence and DiCaprio. It’s an experience that can be appreciated as the filmmakers’ intent but is more frustrating than enjoyable.
Yet in its final downbeat moments, which made me wonder if McKay had been inspired by the Nicolas Cage film Knowing, the frantic lampooning slows down with a surprisingly sincere prayer given by Timothée Chalamet’s hipster character Yule, and the few sympathetic characters all share in what really matters in the face of the apocalypse. It was a poignant coda that some may not appreciate, but I did. Don’t Look Up is a worthwhile parody of society despite its smug excesses and the fact that its ensemble alone probably earned it a Best Picture nomination that should have gone to Tick, Tick …Boom! But I won’t harp on that point; it’s not the end of the world.
Best line: (Yule, praying) “Dearest Father and Almighty Creator, we ask for Your grace tonight, despite our pride. Your forgiveness, despite our doubt. Most of all, Lord, we ask for Your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in Your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance. Amen.”
Rank: Honorable Mention
© 2022 S.G. Liput
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Elizabeth Boquet said:
That last line is perfect!