I fear I will never appreciate the humour in Netflix’s new film Don’t Look Up (written by Adam McKay and David Sirota) until we all stop squabbling about facts that pose an existential threat. Yes, it’s terribly clever. Yes, it’s well-produced and well-acted, and meticulously casts Meryl Streep, as a feckless Trumpian US president with an eye for the main chance. I know it’s funny, but I can’t laugh. It’s like reading Private Eye: the humour can’t squeak past its extremely depressing underlying reality.
The plot: Michigan State PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) finds a giant comet heading straight for Earth. She and her professorial supervisor, Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) calculate that it will cause an extinction-level event.
In hindsight (were it available to them), they might have done better to post the news and supporting data on Twitter, where the world’s astronomers, journalists, and activists would at least have applied some seriousness. But this movie’s target is the unsavoury industrial complex formed by the traditional media, politicians, and business.
So instead, our heroes do the time-honoured thing of calling the authorities. In this case, these are NASA scientist Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), who gets them an appointment at the White House with President Orlean and her chief-of-staff son Jason (Jonah Hill). While they wait just outside, bigger problems seize priority inside the Oval Office.
“Does the president know why we’re here?” Randall asks. “They know,” Oglethorpe says wearily.
In frustration, they turn to the media — a newspaper, which insists on booking a TV appearance for publicity.
“Keep it light, fun…” the producer tells them as they’re being prepped for early morning airtime. This is certainly the approach of TV hosts Jack (Tyler Perry) and Brie (Cate Blanchett), who after all are here every day and must keep their audience’s affection.
Meanwhile, the head of NASA drives off serious media coverage by calling the comet “near-miss hysteria”.
In satirising modern America’s lack of qualification to tackle an existential crisis, Don’t Look Up ignores alternatives. No activists fire up campaigns. No bloc of governments convenes to find solutions. In this movie, it appears that only the US can save us. Hollywood is not ready for movies in which China rescues the world, even if the rest of us would be grateful.
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