“Don’t Look Up:” A dark comedy on the climate disaster



“Don’t Look Up” stars Leonardo Dicaprio (left) and Jennifer Lawrence (right).

On Dec. 24, 2021, the film “Don’t Look Up” released on  the streaming platform Netflix. With a critically acclaimed cast and director, the movie was highly anticipated. In fact, “Don’t Look Up” set a new record for the most viewing hours in a single week on Netflix despite receiving mixed reviews from critics. Based on unexpected events, the film casts Hollywood’s biggest stars, Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, and tells the story of two astronomers trying to warn the world about a comet that can approach and destroy Earth in a matter of time. 

In the film, DiCaprio is a professor at Michigan State University, while Lawrence is his student, working on her PhD and discovering an Earth-shattering comet. They rush to persuade the US president, played by Meryl Streep, to take actions to save humanity. The film is a satire that dramatizes how politicians, media professionals, entrepreneurs and scientists respond with folly and greed when faced with inconvenient scientific facts. The comet approaching human civilization symbolizes the climate change disaster, and the film is a satire of the ignorance and inaction by government, business, media and the public. Meryl Streep is portrayed as an oblivious and frivolous populist while her son, Jonah Hill, plays the role of the White House Chief of Staff. Both blatantly disregard the severity of real world events.

​”Don’t Look Up” is an allegory of the human-made catastrophes. The film’s overall message is centered more on existential threats that can destroy human civilization forever, just beyond entertainment itself. The plot is constructed to elicit laughs from the audience by means of employing parody, absurd remarks and comic gestures.

The film also seems hectic and, in certain parts, is too ambitious to understand the viewers due to its simultaneous discussion of somewhat disparate issues. Some of the jokes are quite funny, while some cause embarrassment and lead to an  awkward silence. However, the ending takes on a dark turn to shock the audience. The director, Adam McKay, wanted that ending to essentially be like a slap in the face. The pivotal theme of the film is that the world is certain to end if you do not act now.  

This film is a grave warning to the world ignoring science and indulging in conspiracies. “Don’t Look Up” was named one of the top ten of 2021 by the National Board of Review and American Film Institute. A climate scientist Peter Kalmus remarked, “”Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen.” Another climate scientist, Michael E. Mann, also expressed support for the film, calling it “serious socio political commentary posing as comedy.”

​”Don’t Look Up” has another important addition to its many themes. That addition is the display of impudent and insensible behavior by powerful figures due to the desire for money or power, even when presented with the shocking discovery of a comet. Their responses to this threat are mockery, ridicule and nonchalance. Accordingly, two scientists, Dicaprio and Lawrence, are forced to endure public shaming by the so-called cancel culture.

The film also subtly deals with the hierarchy of authority between professor and student as well as man and woman. Lawrence, a graduate student, was, in fact, the scientist who discovered the comet. However, compared to Dicaprio as a University professor, the presence and statements by Lawrence are continuously disparaged. As a woman and student, she is further treated like a crazy person. On the contrary, Dicaprio is hailed as a hero, getting more attention from the public. Media stereotyping related to gender and occupation are some of the hidden messages in this film.

Additionally, the media are a big part of the plot. News, television, social media and political communication serve to halt efforts to stop the disaster on Earth. The film describes today’s media world, presenting Twitter posts, news sites and talk shows vividly on the big screen. For example, one talk show host jokes in response to Dicaprio and Lawrence’s talk about the comet’s imminent arrival, asking if it could destroy his ex-wife’s house. Instantly, social media and YouTube all made edits of Lawrence’s character, labeling her as an absurd woman.

By the end of the movie, you as a viewer are left wondering if this is the true state of affairs in the U.S. regarded as the leading light of the world. The metaphors and parodies sometimes hit too close to reality and defy our political, business and media systems as well, making us question ourselves on how we let our politics and prejudices override science and peer reviewed research.

Overall, the film intends to wake up its audience to listen to and act on the impending climate disaster, with the employment of a handful of comedies. Even though it slightly lacked a structure of a stable plot, the overarching theme was successfully sent, and it was a dark comedy about the future of earth and humanity.