With the movie Don’t Look Up!, released December 24, 2021 on Netflix, director Adam McKay sounds a powerful and shocking alarm about the consequences of not acting on the science about the existential climate change threat facing planet Earth and all its life. He does it with a satire that is both biting and funny, making me laugh out loud at the same time I was crying.
The movie portrays Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio as two obscure astronomers who discover a previously undetected comet that is headed directly towards earth. The comet is large enough (9 kilometers [5.6 miles] in diameter) that it would cause an extinction event—likely wiping out almost all life on earth. The satire begins as they present their science to U.S. President Orleans, saying “We have a little over six months until mankind, and every species, is extinct, if we don’t act.” President Orleans (played by Meryl Streep, who draws from Sarah Palin and Donald Trump for models) is skeptical of the science and more critically, out of political expediency, is worried about presenting bad news before an upcoming election. She decides to “sit tight and assess.” The two astronomers take the news to the public, going to a television talk show, print and social media and the story unfolds from there.
The director and the actors who signed on did so out of wanting to find a way to shock people into taking the climate crisis seriously. McKay told the Los Angeles Times, “What I loved about the idea [of using a comet] was that it’s a reference to a lot of narratives that we already know; we’re very comfortable with end-of-the-world movies and how they always wrap up in a nifty bow. But most of all, it made me laugh. It’s sort of a Clark Kent-level disguised allegory for the climate crisis. Right away, I thought, 'Wow, that could be funny and disturbing'—which is kind of how I feel about the climate crisis. It’s absolutely ridiculous that we don’t address it to a degree where it’s almost funny and at the same time wildly upsetting.”
Climate scientist Peter Kalmus echoed other scientists when he wrote in the Guardian: “The movie Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen.” Revcom.us has written about this terrifying inaction (especially in the U.S.) here, here and here.
MINI SPOILER ALERT (advisory: do not read till you watch the film):
While we should assess and understand the impact of the movie more fully, and I hope revcom.us—this site—is and becomes a forum for sorting that out more fully, I still think it is important to note that while jolting the audience to the existential threat of global warming, the movie doesn’t come up with even the beginnings of real answers. This is coupled with some very problematic endings, which I won't go into here, as it will further the spoiler alert and vitiate its spirit.
In the Los Angeles Times interview McKay said, “The central conceit [of the film] is that we’ve screwed up the way we talk to each other by profitizing even the most casual of exchanges… Whether it’s Snapchat or TikTok or social media or the news, you have to get ratings, you have to get clicks. This isn’t blaming any people or saying anyone’s evil. It’s the system that we’ve created. But we’re in a really dangerous situation because when everything is a sales exchange, you’re never going to hear the dark truth.” (All emphasis mine)
But afterwards I couldn’t stop thinking about the questions it poses—and the need for much more debate, critical questioning and ferment on this. I was thinking, among other things:
- How do we realize the need to break through a social climate where truth is determined by how it plays on social media, or by how it affects individuals personally? Or on the problem of people as a whole not having scientific training?
- Most of all, on the fact that a real genuine alternative exists, and what if those forces who organized the Glasgow climate protests, for example, could be brought together to engage this, as concentrated in these excerpts from the Constitution for the New Socialist Republic in North America and "Some Key Principles of Socialist Sustainable Development." And especially, when climate scientists are feeling the existential and time-bound urgency: what does it mean that this is a Rare Time when revolution is possible in the U.S., with a real possibility of getting rid of the very system of capitalism-imperialism that drives global warming? What are the implications of realizing this possibility, in its worldwide impact and on going to work on the problem of global-warming?
Follow through on what it would take to act on this alarm being sounded by watching “The Destruction of the Planet by Capitalism-Imperialism,” and "Not fit caretakers of the earth," both by Bob Avakian, and go to the special resource page on revcom.us on the environmental emergency, Capitalism-Imperialism Is Destroying the Planet... Only Revolution Gives Humanity a Real Chance to Save It.