Movie Review: “Don’t Look Up” (with spoilers)

Yup, I made another podcast version for them who prefer to listen, but you can also read the text below.

Movie Review: “Don’t Look Up” (with spoilers) Disperser Tracks

  1. Movie Review: “Don’t Look Up” (with spoilers)
  2. Tiny Thoughts 005 — Hitchens and Stuff — Podcast Edition

It’s been a while since I’ve reviewed books, shows, or movies, and there’s a very good reason why … because much of everything I’ve seen — which, truthfully, is very little — isn’t notable enough for me to spend my time reviewing.

And, by not “notable enough” I mean that it’s … words fail me, so let me explain it using the act of sneezing into — and/or blowing my nose with — a tissue.

A few things might happen immediately after, all predicated on the near-certainty I’ll succumb to human curiosity — and the concern for my health — and look at what’s on the tissue.

One, I might look at it and see nothing. A dry sneeze is likely the result of some irritant, be it smell, dust, or rogue nose hair. I’ll double up the tissue and discard it.

Two, there might be some moisture mixed in with a bit of phlegm. Depending on the color, I’ll think something like “ew, that’s gross!” or “uh-oh, that don’t look right!” In the first case, I’ll double up the tissue and discard it, and that’s it. In the second case, I’ll also double up the tissue and discard it, BUT I’ll make a mental note to check the output from near-future sneezes. The latter is predicated on color and perceived texture. (Note: I don’t actually test the texture; it’s based on whether I say “ew” or “EWWW!”)

Three, I see green phlegm mixed with enough blood to cause concern. I’ll double up the tissue and discard it, but immediately grab another tissue and set about exploring potential causes, as well as using the tissue for a more thorough examination of the nasal cavities.

By now, you’re wondering what this has to do with the review and thinking this review is already too long … and that’s exactly how I felt about the Don’t Look Up, the Netflix movie I’m reviewing; it was too long.

But let me finish my explanation … neither of the first two scenarios prompt me to write a post about it. So, now you know why I’ve not reviewed any recent movies or books; they were the equivalent of either a dry sneeze, or moisture with a bit of phlegm; momentarily interesting, but not worth any more of my time.

Don’t Look Up falls into the third scenario.

First, let me rate the movie in case readers don’t care about the rest of my review … I give it a 5.783 out of a possible 10.000. Meaning, I didn’t totally feel like I wasted 2.5 hours of my time, and I might’ve enjoyed some of it.

OK, OK, I didn’t waste the full 2.5 hours because I didn’t watch the credits and I sped through parts of it. Not even speed-watched; literally, I skipped parts using Netflix’s “+10 seconds” feature (they should make it “+30 seconds”).

For them who don’t know the premise of the movie, two astronomers discover a big-ass comet heading toward Earth — an extinction-level sized, planet-killing comet — and the movie follows a few individuals and their efforts to get people and the authorities to understand that, unless action is taken, everyone dies in six months.

OK, so, before continuing, I object to the term “planet-killer” … unless it’s used as “killer of most life on the planet”. The planet itself would be fine. Most life on the planet? … not so much.

But, that’s neither here nor there because such hyperboles are common and a familiar feature in everyday life, from the entertainment industry, to politicians, to activists, to religious leaders, to just about anyone wanting to influence others … and they are familiar to us.

When was the last time you said you were starving? Let’s face it; if you’re reading this, the odds that you were ever starving are low. Not zero, but close to it.

If you’re a reader who knows what starvation feels like, kudos on you for surviving it, and double-kudos for landing on this blog. OK, the last part is self-serving, but I mean the first part.  

So, back to the movie … I think, mostly, the movie does a good job of skewering its targets. The movie could have done more to show the vacuousness of its own industry, but, OK.  

It targeted what I call “soft” targets; social and news media, and politicians. Not an enormous challenge as there are tons of free real-world examples.

Honestly, they could have made this movie by collecting clips from YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and other social platforms currently popular … and, for parts of it, that’s what they did.

That’s the biggest issue I had with this movie and its attempted indictment of our world … it’s not a satire, an exaggeration, or an allegory; it’s just the way we live.

But,” you ask, “what’s the movie about? What’s the message?

Before answering, let me say that I’ve not read any reviews of the movie; this is my take, and others may have different takes.

I avoid reviews because they’re seldom honest, rarely address my interests, and are written by people who, in my opinion, are out of touch with reality. Plus, I prefer forming opinions without preconceived ideas shoved into my head by someone with an ax to grind.

What little I read (mostly headlines, which are difficult to avoid) mentioned this was an allegory about climate change.  

I think the overall premise of the movie has broader applications. Meaning, it could apply to other topics. The pandemic comes to mind, but you could pick almost any subject you want because the formula is the same.

That formula goes like this: society faces a significant challenge, and rather than come together and address it, we splinter into predictable groups; the deniers, the fanatics, the uninformed, the uncaring, the power-hungry, the greedy, and so on. The last two are special groups because members of those two groups are adept at manipulating the other groups for short-term gains. And, there are subgroups within the groups, with the most vocal claiming to speak for the whole.  

My problem with the movie is that, while it’s a sometimes fun and occasionally depressing look at the current state of humanity and human nature — and perhaps a mirror for a large portion of humanity to see ourselves themselves in — there’s not much one can take away from it.

Water is wet, fire burns, the wind blows . . . that’s just how things are; there’s nothing more to learn from those facts.  

If meant to motivate people into action, to change minds, to affect concrete change, then this movie suffers from the same things it rails against.

Namely, it purports to say something important, but in the end, there’s no substance, no message, no actionable information. Often with mirrors, people look at them and give themselves a pass. Worse, they might like what they see. I suspect this movie will be the same because it preaches to the choir.

At best, we might say something like “Look! Look how silly we are!”, but we already know that.

If pressured to identify the message I got from the movie, it’s one of resignation, as in “we’re fucked and can’t do fuck-all about it” … as exemplified by the ending dinner scene.   

We’re now at 1,100 words and readers are asking themselves, “What’s the point of this review?”

Exactly!

So, let me briefly touch on a few things before wrapping up.

The threat of a comet impact as an allegory for climate change fails (for me) in a few respects.

A comet heading toward Earth is easy to confirm and not something one can argue about; it’s a clear and present danger and not something that might take decades to play out, and it’s nowhere near the complexity of climate change. Yes, I know, it’s the title of the movie, and the point the movie is trying to make, but it misses the mark, and in that regard, the premise seems forced.

Side Note: The movie quotes a 99.76% chance of it hitting Earth (specifically, the Pacific Ocean). While I don’t know for sure, it’s my impression we couldn’t be that accurate, especially not knowing the composition of the comet and how its approach would affect its outgassing. As soon as I write this, I plan to research it, but given what I’ve read before, I’d say I’m probably correct.

As mentioned, the movie might be more applicable to how this pandemic has played out, but that’s just me.

As an allegory (satire) attempting to mock the present, it fails because you can’t satirize the absurdity of current stupidity, vacuousness, myopic self-interest, political strife — and a host of other problems plaguing our lives — by regurgitating them to us … because we’re living them! Every. Damn. Day.

The comedic attempt fails precisely because it’s uncomfortably close to real life.

I thought Jennifer Lawrence’s performance far outshone the rest of the characters — but that’s because I empathized more with her character than any other character. Does that mean I’m angry? No; I’m resigned.

DiCaprio was a close second if a bit more difficult to pin down because of inconsistencies in the character’s behavior.

Overall, the representation of the experts (the scientists) as inept at getting the message across is somewhat true, but it’s used to absolve one important player in the responsibility matrix … the public.

Scientists are getting better at communicating (at least those speaking directly to the public through social media), but the best and most articulate of scientists (or any expert) have orders of magnitude fewer followers than celebrities, sports figures, caustic politicians, and social activists.

(Side Note: look at the core of everything that’s wrong with this world; you won’t find the media, the politicians, the business leaders … no; you’ll find the willfully ignorant public. To argue the public is a hapless victim is to admit they’re ignorant, if not outright stupid … which some might say is a valid argument. The undercurrent in the movie is exactly that, and I’m at a loss to find a good argument against it.)

I would’ve preferred both the media and the political figures to be more aware and calculating than as presented. The business tycoon was just annoying, and the attempt to show the influence of money in politics, I think missed the mark.

The characters, while out-of-touch and self-serving as their real-world counterparts, are intellectually inept and unknowingly awful, as opposed to calculating and deliberate.

Meaning, they’re presented as cartoon characters, unintentionally ‘evil’ as opposed to deliberately so. The latter would be more realistic.

So, we’ve come to the end … Oh, wait … the end.

Here be spoilers; read on at your peril.

So, the comet hits, and we have an extinction-level event … but the “elites” have escaped to a “new world”, one much like Earth. Personally, I would have liked to see all of them die, but OK.

As presented, they’ll probably die. I doubt they have enough expertise or fortitude to rebuild — or build — anything, let alone a sustainable civilization. In that regard, the situation is eerily similar to very rich people planning their ‘escape’ by building ‘safe havens’ in places like New Zealand.

I suspect their bodyguards and/or hired hands will eventually tire of serving them, chop them up to bits, and feed them to the hogs (a fitting end). At least, I hope that’s what happens.

The thought of them living the good life after being complicit — if not directly responsible — for the misery of billions … well, that’s too depressing to contemplate because it hits too close to home for comfort.

That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.

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