Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up” evokes both praise and criticism

KATE DIBIASKY (Jennifer Lawrence) and Dr. Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) getting frustrated in the Oval Office New York Post

Sosie Casteel | Head Editor

February 4, 2022

As 2021 came to a close, Netflix released a movie brimming with stars and controversial social commentary. The film was originally scheduled to be released in early 2020, but the pandemic caused significant delays. 

Since its premiere in New York City, the relentlessly satirical film has aroused a great deal of controversy and a wide variety of interpretations.

The movie details the frustration of a sarcastic Master’s student, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), who has discovered an apocalyptic comet just six months away from destroying the planet. Accompanied by Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), the two go on a mission to spread the word about the impending disaster to an indifferent world. 

They spend the duration of the movie attempting to elicit a reaction in a world too preoccupied with celebrity drama, power politics, social media usage, and mindless “infotainment.” While Kate Dibiasky becomes increasingly frustrated by the ignorance of her country, Dr. Mindy begins to enjoy the spotlight as a famed “attractive” nerd. 

Perhaps the most obvious social criticism depicted in the movie is the difficulty that scientists have with convincing the public of significant information. Although the comet’s impact had been confirmed by scientists around the world, the public continued to ignore their warnings and go about their frivolous activities. Even the President of the United States, played by Meryl Streep, is too preoccupied with scandal and the upcoming midterms to attempt to prevent the end of the world.

“I feel like the ignorance of the characters in the movie was pretty on point, and we saw similar behavior during the pandemic,” senior Joshua McDonald said. “Despite the information from the CDC, many still refused to wear masks and social distance so we faced the consequences.”

Many believe that the movie represents the world’s current reaction to climate change. Just as the general public ignored the warnings of impending doom in the film, many resist the data that observes our planet is under threat of rising temperatures and mass species extinction. While the characters of this symbolic movie could not stop the comet, we can stop climate change, turning the movie into a critique on the initial reactions of the general population.

Don’t Look Up received a mere 55% on Rotten Tomatoes despite its witty approach to modern issues. Both the Wall Street Journal and The Guardian expressed distaste for the film, feeling that the movie, despite its valuable purpose, did not meaningfully address the climate crisis. After scientists proved that a collision with the comet like the one mentioned in the movie could actually be avoided, critics swarmed around the practical flaws, forgetting the central message.  

MERYL STREEP’S dangerously ignorant character in Don’t Look Up was created to satirize the failure of politicians to respond to the climate crisis. Netflix/Getty Images via Newsweek

One successful point of the movie was its critique of capitalism through scenes that depict the destructive greed of the real world. At one point, the United States government agreed to send rockets to stop the comet. However, a character imitating Bill Gates discovers that the comet contained large amounts of precious metals that will make him “even more disgustingly rich.” As a result, he comes up with a plan to fracture the comet and further endanger the planet, disguising it as an opportunity to create new jobs for Americans. In the movie, the conflict initiates a divide throughout the country which fractures relationships and fosters permanent tension between the characters.

“One of the most disturbing things about the movie was that they had so many chances to stop it but they didn’t,” senior Tom Michailidis said. “They were willing to sacrifice everything for a few rocks.” One of the most common criticisms is the hyperbolic depictions of American culture. However, the exaggerations were purposeful to make the movie more enrapturing. 

At its core, Don’t Look Up is not a disaster. The events represent issues that we are experiencing here and now. To truly enjoy the movie, we have to admit that we are guilty of some of the topics illustrated in the movie such as obsession with celebrity life and ignorance of climate change. This is not to say we must think badly of ourselves; if anything, we should take it as encouragement to improve in 2022.

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