As a satire of mass media and its many failures, the movie Don’t Look Up is pretty good. As a comic cudgel against the bumbling, criminal MAGA right, it is fair to middlin’. But with respect to raising awareness of the climate crisis, the film falls far short of its apparent ambitions, because its focus is all on laying blame. Leo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, as the scientists who see annihilation coming, moment by inexorable moment, spend the movie not persuading, not gathering allies, but yelling at all the “dumb people,” the Others who just won’t see—the clueless news anchors, the right-wing opportunists, the billionaire tech mogul.
Hence all the accusations of smugness against this movie, which brought to mind Hillary Clinton’s immortal presidency-losing line, from the before times of 2016, regarding “the basket of deplorables” who were supporting Trump back then. (“The racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it…”) Real catastrophe, whether political or planetary, makes the accusing posture irrelevant, fatally weakening the urgency of the message. Clinton proved her unfitness for the job by admitting that she wasn’t interested in being president for everyone, only for the smart people, who—as she showed then, and as we are seeing all the time now—are proving to have been the dumbest of them all. Clinton’s podium that night bore the message, “Stronger Together,” but her message could not have been farther from that; Don’t Look Up makes the same mistake.
In his review at the Guardian, Charles Bramesco touched on a related point, commenting that Timothée Chalamet has the movie’s only legitimately moving moments in the character of Yule, the handsome skate rat reconnecting with his Christianity (“I’m finding my own way to it”): “… [Chalamet] does the courtesy of saying a final prayer before the apocalypse hits, a moment so affecting due to McKay’s willingness to consider Yule’s humanity.” (I didn’t find the final prayer anywhere near as affecting as the first one, but Bramesco and I are on the same page anyway.)
What Don’t Look Up failed to say, and what must be said, is that the whole of the earth is in trouble; and all of it, not just some, is worth the trouble of saving.
David Sirota, one of the film’s producers and a journalist of unimpeachable integrity, is a leftist who cannot be accused even by his worst enemies (and there’s a lot of ‘em) of political cynicism. His observation on Twitter is a just one:
That is indeed a real achievement.
But there’s another step still to take: Either everyone is in this, or not. One can revile the MAGA right’s ideas, and still understand that everyone is worth saving. And so long as everyone is not in it, we’ll continue to fail. To put this another way, the movie should have been called (and in my mind will be called) Just Look Up, or maybe like Will Everyone Please Look the Hell Up.