Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up” is a scathing satire of inconvenient truths…

*****COMET-SIZED SPOILERS AHEAD!!*****

Writer/director/producer Adam McKay is known for poking fun at television conventions (“Anchorman”) and politics (his “Saturday Night Live” shorts). With Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up” (2021) he takes aim at the current distrust of science and common sense, using a planet-destroying comet as broad metaphor for COVID and climate change-denials. McKay also skewers the current extreme political climate, our over-reliance on tech gurus, and the insatiable American appetite for building up/deconstructing public figures with a ‘like’ or ‘dislike’ button. “Don’t Look Up” takes a darkly comic look at the superficiality and seductiveness of the human condition, under the shadow of a planet-killer comet.

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Astronomers Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio (doing his best “Leonard Hofstadter” impression) make the single most important discovery of all time–but no one gives a s#!t.

Midwestern astronomy professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his doctoral candidate student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discover a new comet in the night sky, and both quickly deduce that this 10 kilometer mass is on a direct course to Earth, where it will impact in a matter of months, causing a mass extinction level event. The scientists’ immediately seek verification and contact NASA’s Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), which sends immediate red flags to the CIA and the White House.

Note: The procedures used for the movie regarding comet verification and use of proper notification channels is greatly fictionalized, but scientific accuracy isn’t necessarily the goal of this movie, since the comet mainly exists as metaphor for other pressing dangers of the moment.

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Not exactly flying the Friendly Skies…

Before long, the military intercepts the scientists and takes them aboard a massive military transport (sly commentary on military spending/waste) to Washington DC, where they’re told they will meet with the President Orlean (Meryl Streep, in a broad parody of Donald Trump). Waiting in the West Wing, Kate is outraged that a general charges them for snacks and bottled water, which she later learns are free in the White House break room. This quickly becomes a running gag, as Kate recounts her story of indignation to anyone who will listen. They waste an entire day (sleeping on a couch outside the Oval Office) to seek a moment with the president to deliver their colossally important discovery–only to be constantly rebuffed and rescheduled by the President’s obnoxious son and Chief of Staff Jason (Jonah Hill).

Note: While Streep does a gender-reversing twist on the former president (right down to managing a brewing sex scandal), Jonah Hill plays Jason Orlean as an obvious amalgam of Donald Trump’s adult offspring. Superficially he represents Don Jr. and Eric Trump, right down to the facial hair and his desperately unrequited need for his superficial mother’s love and attention. Hill also captures the Trump boys’ deep insecurities that are forever masked by their douchebaggery. Jason’s position in the Oval Office is also a nod to Trump’s daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner; both of whom held nebulously-defined positions within the Trump administration.

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Randall and Kate’s meeting with President Orlean convinces them that they’re all dead meat.

After a day of waiting, Randall and Kate finally get their meeting with President Orlean, who seems more distracted by her polling numbers during a sexting scandal than the end of the world. Needless to say, President Orlean is a frightening lesson in the true nature of politics, as the two scientists are told they need to be made more media friendly before any official announcements can be made by either of them. Randall, knowing what’s at stake, desperately tries reason, while Kate lets her angry fly free. Orlean’s son and Chief of Staff Jason is more concerned about the end of the world being perceived as a downer rather than delivering the news itself. Realizing their meeting (and bitter education on the state of modern politics) officially went nowhere, Kate and Randall decide to take their message straight to the media…

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An unrecognizable Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry are the artificially affable cohosts of “The Daily Rip.”

Up next is a visit to the New York morning show “The Daily Rip”—a satirical combo platter of “Fox and Friends,” “Morning Joe” and “The View”; TV shows whose main business seems to be mollifying the public while turning any subject into an easily digestible soundbite or hashtag for broad consumption. The two astronomers are immediately made more ‘camera-friendly’ in the makeup chair, with DiCaprio in particular getting a layer of nerd taken off of his face. Cate Blanchett is utterly unrecognizable as the bleach-blonde Bree Evantee, who could pass for any number of Fox News cohosts or MSNBC’s Mika Brzezinski. Playwright/actor Tyler Perry (“Star Trek” {2009}) plays her smarmy cohost Jack Bremmer. Right off, the two hosts set about dividing and conquering the unified front of Kate and Randall as Bree warms up to cleaned up professor, while Kate is made out to be an hysterical drama queen when she reminds the audience that they’re “all gonna f–king die!”

Soon, Kate’s brutally honest exclamation lands her in deep trouble as Jason has her carted off in handcuffs with a bag over her head to her new anonymous life working in the service industry. The happily-married Randall tracked better with The Daily Rip’s audience, and soon the middle-aged midwestern astronomer is seduced into a new life as a TV science spokesman; think Bill Nye or Neil deGrasse Tyson, but looking like… well, Leonardo DiCaprio.

Note: I did not even recognize Cate Blanchett at all in the role of Bree Evantee. She and actor Mark Rylance (“Bridge of Spies”), who plays tech guru Peter Isherwell, utterly disappear under their heavy cosmetic makeup and comically whitened, capped teeth.

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Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance and Meryl Streep and others watch as their Hail Mary pass turns to s#!t.

As Bree further seduces newfound media darling Randall into her shallow world of soundbites and feel-good talk TV, President Orlean sees her own poll numbers sag in the face of the comet crisis. She decides to shore up support for a futile plan proposed by Tim Cook/Steve Jobs-ish tech guru Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) who gives platitudinal assurances through a creepy, emotionally vacant smile as he shamelessly promotes his eerily intrusive new app designed to predict one’s entire life, emotional state, and death. Isherwell is put in charge of saving the planet, since Orlean prefers to rely solely on free enterprise to do the trick (sound familiar?). She also recruits drunken ex-astronaut Benedict Drask (Ron Perlman), a former space hero who was (presumably) cancelled for some horribly racist, sexist thing he might have said or done. Orlean wants to turn the comet interception mission into an American hero narrative, complete with tough-as-nails ex space cowboy flying off in a re-activated space shuttle to stop the nasty comet–never mind that humans aren’t even needed for the mission, as Dr. Mindy quietly points out before being overruled. It’s not about the mission; it’s about the media presentation. Drask’s ‘hero’ mission is later aborted (right after launch) when Isherwell’s company detects valuable battery-making minerals on the comet’s surface.

Short-term greed trumping common sense once again.

Note: Current tech guru billionaires like Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg are all very present in the deeply unsettling, almost extraterrestrial visage of Isherwell. With his gray hair, vacant expressions and preternaturally whitened teeth, Ryland’s Isherwell also reminds me very much of ‘Heaven’s Gate’ suicide cult leader, Marshall Applewhite, who convinced a group of upper middle-class followers to follow him into suicide in March of 1997 by convincing them that the nearby Comet Hale-Bopp was actually a spaceship flying by to beam their souls into an idyllic new existence. The influence that these current tech gurus have in our own daily lives (through our devices and apps) makes it easy to draw parallels to a cult leader like Applewhite–who also sought such minute-to-minute control over his own ‘subjects.’ Rylance plays Isherwell as an obtuse genius who masks his own failures with empty assurances.

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Himesh Patel as Kate’s ex-boyfriend Philip, who breaks up with her on social media and makes trashing her his new career.

Meanwhile, on other fronts, Kate’s boyfriend Philip (Himesh Patel) breaks up with her on social media after her unhinged outcry on national TV caused her to be seen in social media as an hysterical Karen; completely oblivious to her heartfelt message, because it’s more funny to laugh at the screaming lady. Philip makes a cottage industry out of trashing his ex, even going so far as to create a startup media outlet of his own; Philip is a parasite. Meanwhile, celebrities begin to chime in on the comet crisis, with pop singer Riley Bina (real-life pop singer Ariana Grande, poking fun at her own image) holding a benefit concert, as she debuts her new song about the comet.

Note: The parade of celebrities trying to turn the cometary crisis spotlight back on themselves in the movie is absolutely on point. In 2020, we saw an embarrassing COVID karaoke, as various high-profile celebrities (Gal Gadot, Kristen Wiig, et al) tried to perform a Zoom singalong of John Lennon’s “Imagine” (my favorite song) to the amusement of no one. Granted, the song itself was a nice gesture, but many felt the presentation was ill-timed and a bit tone-deaf to the genuine suffering of so many in those uncertain early days of the pandemic.

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Leonardo DiCaprio’s Dr. Randall Mindy delivers a final primal scream over the futility of it all…

A seduced Randall Minsky finds himself supporting Isherwell Orlean’s insane plan to mine valuable battery-making minerals on the comet’s surface using remote drones. After public ridicule from former student Kate, Randall realizes the sheer folly of Isherwell’s plan and comes to his senses. Seeking to ditch his newfound life as the president’s science aide and return to his wife June (Melanie Lynskey), Randall abruptly resigns.

Making matters worse is a new media campaign urging Americans to ignore the danger of the comet completely with a “Don’t Look Up” hashtag in social media. Working at a grassroots fundraising office (raising funds to somehow ‘stop’ a deadly comet is part of the joke), Randall becomes physically sick with the futility of everything, as he lets loose an anguished, primal scream.

Note: The parallels to the ‘Don’t Look Up’ campaign and the current anti-vaccination/anti-masker and climate change denial campaigns are unmistakable, as the movement’s followers are told to ignore reports of the comet itself becoming visible in the night sky. After all, if people actually bother to look up, they will literally see the comet for themselves. Similarly, in our own reality, if people simply listened to others’ own COVID stories with just a bit of empathy, they might just be persuaded to take action. We live at a delicate time when science-denial is literally threatening both personal safety and the future habitability of Earth for our species. Just as 1964’s “Dr. Strangelove” spoke about the dangers of nuclear annihilation within the context of a Cold War black comedy, “Don’t Look Up” speaks to science denial in much the same way.

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Meryl Streep shores up her base at a MAGA-like rally against the killer comet.

On the eve of the drone’s launch to killer comet Dibiasky-Mindy, President Orlean holds a very familiar Trump-style rally, complete with “Don’t Look Up” baseball caps and lots of jingoism. Following the rally, Orlean and her advisors head to the mission control center to follow the progress of the mission, along with its architect, Isherwell. The rockets containing Isherwell’s drones launch, although two are vaporized on the launch pad.

Eventually, the remaining drones reach the comet and begin drilling into its unstable surface. Unfortunately, the comet’s outgassing causes yet more drones to de-anchor from the surface and collide with each other. With only a handful of drones left, the mission is classed a failure. The president and her entourage, along with the creepy Isherwell, quietly exit the control center–leaving her clueless son Jason behind.

Note: Once again, Jason Orlean’s abandonment in the mission control center is a commentary on the allegedly transactional relationships former President Trump has with his offspring.

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Everything must go.
Kate, Randall and Kate’s newfound slacker beau Yule (Timothée Chalamet) do a little end of the world shopping.

Randall has turned down a personal offer from the president to be part of her contingency plan (a starship filled with elite survivors concealed from the general public) just to make peace with June and his sons. Going back to Michigan, Randall also reconnects with Kate, who has entered into a relationship with young skater boy and would-be philosopher named Yule (Timothée Chalamet). Yule is, in fact, the very thing Kate needs in her life after being turned away by her “Don’t Look Up” (i.e. MAGA) family. The three of them go on a shopping trip to a ransacked grocery store as part of Randall’s plan to get back to his wife and kids.

Note: The idea of an escape starship (with advanced cryogenics) standing by at the president’s disposal is utterly preposterous, of course; this is a comedy, after all. A ‘secret’ starship, presumably built in Earth orbit, would be visible to amateur telescopes on the ground. Not to mention that the funding, technology and sheer manpower required to build such a huge vessel (let alone keep it secret) simply doesn’t exist. In contrast, it took space shuttle crews (and other countries’ launches) many years to put the International Space Station together. But, of course, this is a dark comedy, so such pesky details can more easily be hand-waved away far easier than they could in a movie like, say, 1998’s “Deep Impact”.

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Randall comes home to beg the forgiveness of his long-suffering wife June (Melanie Lynskey).

Randall eventually makes it home to June, with guests Kate, Yule and former NASA chief Teddy Oglethorpe. Begging her forgiveness, June takes Randall back. Randall’s sons are also glad to see their dad return, following his seduction by fame. The group puts together a final thanksgiving dinner, and in a surprisingly heartfelt scene, they toast the good lives they’ve had, and for being with each other in the final hours of the human race. Randall sums it up best when he says to his family and assembled guests, “We really did have everything, didn’t we?”

Note: That line of Randall’s, reportedly improvised by DiCaprio himself in rehearsal, is as much a summation of the human experiment on planet Earth as it is commentary on North American affluence. In yet another context, it’s about family. If there is a single best line of the film, that was it. I was frankly unprepared for this deeply dark comedy to have such a surprisingly rich emotional core. My wife and I were both in tears.

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A final thanksgiving before the end…

The comet hits, and we see the Mindy family’s feast silently and slowly destroyed by the vast shockwave of the comet’s impact. There is no reprieve. No last minute strokes of genius. The age of humans comes to an end, just as the dinosaurs met a similar fate at the end of the Cretaceous period, some 65 million years ago. However, the movie doesn’t quite end there…

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Was Darwin wrong?
Sometimes the least-worthy, dumbest animals do survive–for awhile, anyway.

In the movie’s final scenes, we see the president’s escape starship making its way to an Earth-like exoplanet in another solar system, thousands of years later. Their cryogenic pods open, and the president’s fully nude entourage disembarks onto the surface of this new Edenesque world. Despite this second chance, the president’s entourage remain as petty, small-minded and ridiculous as ever. Isherwell tries out his new smart device right before the president is eaten alive by a giant apex predator. Soon, we see the entire group of would-be Adams and Eves devoured like so many hors d’oeuvres, completing the final notes in humanity’s song of futility and shortsightedness. It’s an ending right out of Rod Serling’s “The Twilight Zone.”

Note: There is also a hilarious post-credits coda, where we see Jason Orlean emerging from the rubble of the mission control center, as the literal last man on Earth. After calling out once again for his long-gone mother, the spoiled bastard then whips out his phone to livestream his survival to an audience of precisely no one.

The End.

Summing It Up.

“Don’t Look Up” is a dark comedic blend of “Deep Impact,” “Armageddon,” “Dr. Strangelove,” and Mike Judge’s brilliant 2006 cult film, “Idiocracy” (another must-see comedy). Adam McKay has put together a scathing indictment of politics, science denial, celebrities, social media and, finally, of human nature itself. As I’ve already seen in other corners of the internet, the movie is deeply polarizing, and this is fitting, since our current polarized political climate is one of the movie’s many targets. While it’s true that the film’s jabs are hardly subtle, it’s also true that we don’t live in subtle times. If anything, the movie’s in-your-face style speaks very well to the post-civil culture in which we find ourselves today.

Be warned; “Don’t Look Up” is a hilarious, yet honest assessment of where we are and who we are, but it’s not for the easily offended. The best way to enjoy the film is with a healthy sense of self-deprecation.

Watch & Enjoy Safely.

“Don’t Look Up” is available to stream right now on Netflix. The current number of COVID-19 related deaths in the United States is over 829,000 (and well over 5.4 million worldwide) as of this writing, so please wear masks (N-95/KN-95 masks are optimal), practice safe-distancing and get vaccinated as soon as possible to minimize infections and protect your loved ones (booster shots are available everywhere). There is also the highly contagious Omicron variant to safeguard for as well, so please continue to mask up in public spaces for others’ sake as well as your own.

Take care and be safe!

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Images: Netflix.

7 Comments Add yours

  1. Mrs. GG and I need to watch this I think. Your review makes it sound like what I was expecting although it may be a bit painful.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Not always an easy watch, but if you appreciate dark comedy, it’s right up your alley. Hope you enjoy it. Look forward to your thoughts on it as well.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. We are a little more than halfway through but had to take a break last night. Not something I really wanted to sleep on. Very clever, biting satire that does strike very close to home. Of course it is an exaggeration but I worry that it closer to reality than I wish for.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. OK… we finished it. Mrs. GG would prefer her opinion to remain private but for me it was painfully sharp satire that was rather depressing to think about. I smirked and snorted a few times. It had a number of things that may have just been bias confirmation for me, which always feels sort of nice but given the context is not really uplifting when I think about it. The acting was generally decent. I read a review on another blog where the writer suggested it might have been a better movie if the Bash plan had worked but had just created even greater wealth inequality. I think that may have been a better ending.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. That would’ve been a legitimate ending as well, yes. I guess I just liked them gracefully accepting the inevitable; Randall’s final line at the dinner table…so eloquent.

        Anyway, glad you saw it and gave it a chance. Always love to hear other opinions!

        Liked by 1 person

  2. D.Parker says:

    Values, priorities, extreme self-serving nature with little concern for others such as the previous president exhibits, will have the same effect on America’s democracy. His “will” can destroy the american’s way of life ! “Don’t Look Up” is a example of what. could happen to the quality of our cointry as we know it !

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Rings all too true, indeed.

      Like

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