“Don’t Look Up” – and How it Pertains to Reality

“Don’t Look Up” - and How it Pertains to Reality

Alana Malingagio, staff writer

In 2018 Adam Mckay had just read a report by the IPCC (the body of the United Nations responsible for assessing the science related to climate change) and it was a terrifying awakening. The report was dark, predicting various risks and disasters across the planet once it reaches an increase of ​​1.5 °C above pre-industrial levels, which we are likely to see in the early 2030s. Mckay and his journalist-friend David Sirota were completely in awe that this issue is not being covered by the media, that it’s being pushed to the end of the story, that it is not showing up in any headlines. Sirota then made an off-handed comment: that it’s like a comet’s headed to earth and it’s going to destroy us all and nobody cares and so the concept for Adam Mckay’s satirical screenplay, “Don’t Look Up,” was born. 

The movie “Don’t Look Up” premiered on Netflix on December 24, where it has already broken records with over 321 million hours streamed. Already, it has won the AFI Award for one of its Movies of the Year and earned four Golden Globe nominations. There is the argument that the film has only been recognized so much because of its message, and to that, some criticize it for lacking in technical implementation and artistic merit. To many of its millions of viewers, including me, it is a well-executed satirical masterpiece with a greater purpose. 

Everyone and their mother has seen the typical James-Bond-esk big Hollywood movies. “Don’t Look Up” follows a familiar premise that we’ve all seen before about forthcoming global calamity: a comet is set to intercept Earth at an extinction level catastrophe in just 6 months. In a formulaic action-adventure movie, it’ll play with your expectations a bit but in the end someone will save the day, and the audience will shut off the TV feeling reassured life will go on. However, in Mckay’s version, world leaders do not rise to the occasion. The world is so wrapped up in mindless forms of entertainment and instant gratification likes, shares, comments, etc. that we are unable to effectively communicate with each other. Mckay’s hope is to make people consider the more realistic ending of his film as it applies to reality and the climate crisis. He explains that “narrative is really powerful and in some ways maybe we all think as not only people but as audience members that it’s just gonna work out.” Perhaps if we consider the result of a potential existential crisis in narrative stories differently, we will take the actual dire emergencies in reality (such as climate change) more seriously. In denying the audience that ordinary feel-good culmination, the writers hoped to deliver a wake-up call to those who would happily keep hitting the snooze button on the inevitable alarm that is climate change.

Cast member Jennifer Lawrence said it best: “It’s extremely frustrating to be a citizen that believes in climate change and is scared, but I’m not a part of it — you know, I can’t buy a senator — so we’re just kind of helpless.” In the film, wealthy tech business owners and government executives are too blinded by power and profit to meet this situation with the attention it needs, carelessly irresponsible for the lives they hold at their discretion. Not only does this apply to reality in the sense that nobody in a powerful enough position to do so has stepped up to combat climate change, but also when looking at recent disasters of the past couple years. It’s interesting to see how these hypothetical scenarios Mckay imagined have actually panned out into real life (in the U.S.) over the course of the pandemic with a whole new wave of denying the scientific community. Mckay himself has acknowledged this, as many people have noticed the sort of prophetic nature his work unintentionally had. He told Entertainment Weekly, “It was already a crazy script but I would say reality out-crazied us by like 10 to 15%,” and events like the President’s announcement to ingest bleach on live TV just “went so far beyond any comedy we had in our script.” 

The release of the film, with its deeply vital message, could not have come at a better time. We’ve been given a seven-year window to fix things before the effects of climate change are irreversible and we enter the critical threshold of 1.5 °C warming. Though many high school students are under 18 and unable to vote, it is our responsibility, once we come of age, to put pressure on the powers that be — federal leaders, government officials, and private corporations — that have a more significant impact in creating change. If COVID-19 has shown us anything, it’s that we’re all victims to viruses; just as we are to Mother Earth as a whole. Furthermore, the active collapse of the livable atmosphere is something that needs to be on the forefront of everyone’s mind, every media outlet, and every politician.