Movie Review: Don’t Look Up, So on The Nose You Can’t Help But Laugh
By David T. Valentin
After the past four years of a Trump presidency, an entire pandemic (still ongoing), and a so far lackluster progressive agenda from the Biden administration, watching Don’t Look Up on Netflix seems to be our fictional ending to our apocalyptical themed season, season finale. It’s so spot on, in fact, that you can’t help but laugh (or laugh more after going through what the world has gone through in the past five years).
Starring notable actors such as Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill and a few other cameos, Don’t Look Up follows astronomer Dr. Randall Mindy and his student, Dr. Dibiasky. While observing the stars, Dr. Dibiasky finds a comet set on a definitive collision course with Earth. The movie follows the two scientists wrestling to convince the public and government officials, including a caricature of Trump in the form of President Janie Orlean, who are all too self-absorbed with wealth, poll numbers and power. And the rest, well, you’ll have to watch the rest yourself.
Don’t Look Up is an odd mixture of satirical comedy to our very real political world that creates a set of tension that seems almost unsettling and uncomfortable to the viewer. And why wouldn’t it be? For the past five years we’ve watched the events of the movie, and its players, on a real-world stage that leaves us all wondering if we’re all actually in a movie.
DiCaprio’s anxious portrayal of a doctor who must bear both the burden of knowledge about the end of the world and just trying to be an everyday person was the emotional pull that really dragged me into the movie. The borderline between insanity and depression is certainly something many people are dealing with now as we continue to deal with the COVID pandemic as government officials try to push us to all pretend like we can all go back to normal.
And Jennifer Lawrence’s character, Kate Dibiasky, who’s a doctorate candidate in search of the beginning of her career, finds that her discovery and the lack of action by government officials ends any potential future in both her personal life and career, bringing it all into an abrupt end. I couldn’t help but empathize with Dibiasky, thinking of the many college students who were forced into lockdown and forced to swallow the fact their college education must come to an abrupt end through a zoom graduation call. It seems all so ridiculous if that was all put into a movie, but it’s a reality many students have had to deal with.
It makes us ask the question, if two scientists who bear the burden of the knowledge of all the threats of outer space, what does that do to the everyday person, the reality of so many existential threats right outside our doorstep? Throughout the film we watch as everyday people panic, find peace or purpose in the very real threat of a comet hurtling down to Earth. And never once does the movie vilify the everyday person in their response to such threats. As Kate Dibiasky says in the closing moments of the film, “At least we tried,” reminding the audience it is the attempt to find meaning that matters at the end of the day, even with the threat of complete annihilation of humanity.
In fact, the only vilifying the film does are the people who actively push against those who wish to create positive change in the world, those who spin webs of lies to draw the ignorant in for their own benefit. While President Orleans is an accurate caricature of Trump, the film still makes it abundantly clear it is not just one political party responsible for the lack of response or incompetence to existential threats like climate change, but the individual politicians, regardless of party, who choose financial gain and the status quo with the knowledge of a solution to better the material lives of everyday people; as if the solution is a bargaining chip for the elite to dangle over the noses of everyday people, as if to say “Be grateful for what we give to you.”
More specifically, the film tells us the villains are those who are more interested in the wealth and fame they can gain by spinning these kinds of systemic issues and existential threats into comfortable stories that will make them seem like heroes without actually improving the material wealth of those who are suffering. For that, both political parties in the United States are guilt of.
Overall, the movie was spot on in its delivery of comedy, existential anxiety and the search for meaning even when it proves futile. Since I would put this film in the same kind of socio-economic and political commentary as Squid Game (of course, through a more comedic lens), I wouldn’t recommend the movie to most Americans, considering the lack of critical analysis they’ve had toward Squid Game (yes, I’m looking at those who watched the show and then said, “But they willingly signed up for it!” completely ignoring the systemic pressures that put the contenders of the Squid Games to make that decision in the first place).
Funnily enough, there will be people who watch this movie and believe it to be “too political” or “too anti-establishment” (check the reviews that have already come out). But if creating competent solutions to existential threats to humanity is a political agenda, then in the words of Dr. Mindy, “Then what the hell happened to us?”