334 – Don’t Look Up

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We’ve enjoyed Adam McKay’s previous couple of films, The Big Short and Vice, in which he dramatises real events in a pointed, opinionated, satirical manner. He now brings the same attitude to the apocalypse, painting a picture of a world in which an asteroid is headed on a collision course with Earth, poised to end the human race’s existence unless something is done… and nobody cares.

We debate its merits and failures, agreeing that it’s a comedy with few laughs, but José arguing for its place in the national theatre of ideas that cinema has always been in America, and as a response to that question we’ve been hearing asked for several years now – how can you satirise a reality that’s this absurd to begin with? Mike asks why McKay’s previous films worked where this fails, and suggests that it’s an inability to be indirect, to work in poetic ways – something that’s effective when being openly sarcastic, as in The Big Short and Vice, but that falls short in Don’t Look Up‘s appeal for earnestness and depth of character.

An ambitious film, then, attempting to holistically satirise the state of things as they currently stand – but at best, a mixed bag.

With José Arroyo of First Impressions and Michael Glass of Writing About Film.

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3 thoughts on “334 – Don’t Look Up

  1. Renata Mirra

    I’ve listened to the podcast for quite a long time now and I never had the urge to comment before even though you always make me think of something that escaped me, or bring an idea that changes my view of the film. Interestingly the two episodes I heard today did urge me to comment (sorry! I promise I won’t start writing what I think in every episode, it was really just this one time – twice). Here it is: I’m very curious whether you purposely avoid mentioning the analogy to climate change because it’s too obvious or if it did not feel that obvious to you? As a scientist myself and having done research on issues related to climate change (also knowing of Dicaprio’s engagement with the issue), it feels little doubt that the meteor is climate change. And on that note, I think the film has a lot of value in describing the present and the future (unlike Mike’s view) of humankind in regards to the threat posed by climate change, because what is currently happening is precisely what is portrayed in the film – politicians are still concerned about power and ratings, the rich are still concerned about their riches, and the rest of society aren’t so much stuck to their phones (we are but I don’t think that’s the point) but mostly ignoring the threat and trusting that someone out there knows what their doing, and we’re probably all going to die not that far from now (a bit more than 6 months but still the end of humankind in a relatively recent future). What I agree the most is that the film doesn’t really work as comedy because it is so absolutely literal (I suppose Dr. Strangelove managed it better) but I agree that it still works for the acting and as (not particularly funny) satiric entertainment. There is great brilliance (and vision) in making the scientists go through the humiliation of breakfast TV as the only means of telling people about their important research, that has immense implications for humankind – this is definitely the direction science is taking. The threat of climate change is as real and as big as the meteor analogy and I think the film is almost itself a crazy means (not too different from breakfast TV) for “promoting” this message; it really has value for bringing it up and exposing most of what we already know about how the world works from the “top” but we often still prefer not to see it for what it is and have that trust that someone is in control. It’s not a cinema masterpiece but I don’t think it was set to be that in the first place. Sorry for the long comment!

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    1. michaeljglass Post author

      Hi Renata, Mike here. First of all, thanks for the long comment! Speaking only for myself, my first response to the film was as a parable about the world of fake news and disinformation that’s developed over the last few years, and it wasn’t until I read other reviews of the film, after we’d recorded the podcast, that I saw the climate change analogy, which immediately became obvious. I’d certainly have brought it up otherwise, it wasn’t a deliberate omission on my part. I half-heartedly thought of it as an analogy for Covid-19 denialism, but again, that’s more about the disinformation and tribalism than it is about the apocalypse bearing down upon us. And Covid continues to be very closely associated with the kind of tribalism seen in the film, whereas the climate crisis isn’t, which might be part of the reason why I never thought of it as a climate analogy. Actually, I think the age of debate over climate change has been over for a while, and people overwhelmingly accept the fact of it today – the problem now is getting people to stop thinking of it as a fait accompli, in which we’ve all just accepted our fate. Indeed, that’s exactly what the scientists in the film are trying to do, so I see that that’s something I could have picked up on.

      I vaguely agree with José, and I think you, if I’ve read you right, when you talk about the value of the film as something around which issues can crystallise. I think to an extent it has done, in that it’s become, to some degree, a shorthand in conversation for the topics it brings up. But I do find it a bit generous to praise it for that when I still think it’s such a failure of a comedy.

      And please don’t apologise for your comments! The longer the better!

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