HAfter complaining for a long time that the movies don’t address the most vital issue of our time – the climate crisis – maybe it’s rude of me not to be happy when someone shows up who does just that. But Adam McKay’s labored, shy, and un-relaxed satire Don’t Look Up is like a 145-minute Saturday Night Live skit without the brilliant Succession comedy, which McKay is co-producing, or the seriousness the subject matter might otherwise. require. It is as if the sheer unthinkability of the crisis could only be contained and represented in self-conscious slapstick mode.
With striking allusions to Dr Strangelove, Network and Wag the Dog, Don’t Look Up tells the story of two astronomers who discover that a comet the size of Mount Everest is expected to hit planet Earth in six months and wipe out all life. human. Scientists urgently present their findings to the White House, but find that the political and media classes cannot or do not want to understand what they are saying: too stunned by consumerism, short-termism and gossip about social networks, and insidiously crippled by big tech interests. Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dr. Randall Mindy, a bearded and nerdy astronomer nervous about human interactions and addicted to Xanax. Jennifer Lawrence is her intelligent and emotionally tangy graduate student Kate Dibiasky. Meryl Streep is the panto-villainous president, Jonah Hill his son and chief of staff, and Mark Rylance is the scary British tech mogul Sir Peter Isherwell.
The comet represents the climatic catastrophe, but the metaphor is not the problem. The obvious danger of global warming means that it’s no longer so far-fetched to compare it to a piece of flaming rock the size of Uluru heading our way. It’s not like Mimi Leder’s 1998 thriller Deep Impact, which had a comparable story – he’s more aware of its higher satirical significance. But the sharp insanity means that, with a few exceptions, it doesn’t quite work out on its own chosen level of megaphone comedy, which is touted as the only viable medium for its politically serious and (understandably) not funny message.
That said, the sheer, bizarre spectacle of the opening act is gripping and fact-based. It really is the official policy of the US government to deflect incoming asteroids by launching missiles at them, a point made by Werner Herzog in his recent documentary Fireball: Visitors from Darker Worlds. This policy is not in itself disturbing but, as this film suggests, what is worrying is that the erosion of our ability to react in time, to understand that something horrible could happen is taking place. to happen – right now. You get a feel for Randall and Kate’s suppressed delirium as they prepare to be on a TV show and everyone discusses a pop star’s failed relationship. They took the red pill. Time is running out for everyone to take theirs.
There are sharp political points to be made. Jonah Hill’s obnoxious political brother addresses his Trumpite base, describing what he sees as the three realms in the world today: “There are you, the working classes; there’s us the cool rich, and there’s them… ”and here he gestures vaguely to the awake left, complaining about something as stupid as the end of the world.
Don’t Look Up is finally shifting into a mode of exhilaration and transcendence, and I couldn’t help but think of Lars von Trier’s 2011 film Melancholia about planetary collision, which is similar. But for all of its flaws, Von Trier’s film chose a more interesting and disturbing dark comedy mode (and I’m sorry that in 2011 I didn’t see the connection to climate change). This film could have done something more convincing with this inverted vertigo mode evoked in its title: this fear and this willful blindness to what threatens us. But if the film is helping to do something about climate change, such critical objections are irrelevant.
Don’t Look Up is in theaters from December 10 and on Netflix from December 24.