‘Don’t Look Up’ warns viewers of an ominous future

Film shares powerful social commentary disguised as comedy


Fair use from Netflix

Maren Wilsey

One of the most anticipated movies of the year, Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up,” is a satirical commentary on our current society. In a world not so different from ours, astronomers Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawerence) are thrust into the spotlight when they discover a comet on track for a direct hit to Earth that would wipe out humanity. 

The film boasts one of the most star-studded casts of the year. Even the smallest role had an A-lister attached, from Ariana Grande to Cate Blanchett to Chris Evans. Such a flashy cast could easily distract from the message of the film — I’ll admit there are moments where it comes close — but every single actor perfectly embodied their part. Leonardo DiCaprio’s performance as a middle-aged midwestern scientist had my parents near tears at times, and Meryl Streep’s infuriating President Orleans drew many parallels to certain politicians in power right now. 

By far the most chilling performance was Mark Rylance’s portrayal of the space-obsessed cellphone company CEO, Peter Isherwell. With bits of Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk all whirled into one, the character is an unsettling example of what a person can do when given enough money. While many people were at fault, Isherwell was the one who was ultimately responsible for Earth’s destruction. He had no official government position, but his whispers in the president’s ear were what actually made the decisions. 

The film was advertised as being based on “entirely possible events,” and that statement was a very accurate way to describe it. It could easily be a metaphor for climate change or COVID-19. So many characters, events and themes that were present in the film were eerily similar to the real world. It feels like McKay intentionally made it as unsubtle as possible. He had something to say with the film and wanted to ensure the message got across. 

There was an angry tone throughout the whole film, whether it came from Lawrence’s general brusqueness or a sudden outburst from DiCaprio. It makes sense — the intent of the film is to point out the infuriating way our society treats issues like these. 

It also shows that when it comes down to it, there is nothing the average citizen can do against government corruption. In the end, the government failed to protect its citizens and as a result they all died. They prioritized their own wealth when they found out there were valuable materials on the comet. Knowing the risks, they placed the safety of the entire planet in the hands of untested, experimental technology, and when it failed they ran away. The entire time they operated with only their own best interests in mind. 

The film isn’t meant to be a pat on the back, soothing your fears with “don’t worry, it’ll all work out.” It’s a slap across the face that says, “wake up, this is our reality.” On the surface it was very enjoyable to watch, but as I walked away I felt a dull sense of hopelessness. The themes and events of the film hit a little too close to home. It was a thin facade of a comedy over a commentary on politics, human nature and the media. 

I struggle to find things to criticize about the film. It’s been very controversial among critics, with scores all across the board. There were some parts that tended to drag in the middle, but none of the content took away from the overall message.

I’ve seen many people take issue with the film’s attempt at satire. They argue it’s just too real to be an effective satire. The people who say this are missing the point. The movie does exactly what it’s supposed to — freak you out. It’s supposed to align so closely with our own world, to call out the very familiar threats we see all around us. It was supposed to be uncomfortable to watch because that’s what the truth is: uncomfortable. 

As heavy as the material addressed in the film was, I really enjoyed it. There were plenty of comedic moments to lighten the mood and the story was very engaging. I don’t think the length should deter anyone either, because once you start watching it’s hard to look away. It was a powerful movie and will leave you thinking about it for a long time after you finish. 

“Don’t Look Up:” ★★★★★