Netflix’s highly-anticipated “Don’t Look Up” is one of 2021’s most star-studded films. Directed by Adam McKay, the movie is already breaking records, earning its spot on the podium as the streaming site’s third most-viewed movie ever after only being available for 11 days. The film also features household names like Oscar award-winning actor Leonardo DiCaprio and Grammy award-winning artist Ariana Grande. They are accompanied on the screen by Oscar winners Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence, and the credits include even more A-listers. Aside from its striking cast list and astounding ability to draw in viewers, “Don’t Look Up” has everyone paying attention for a multitude of other reasons, too.
During the production of “Don’t Look Up,” astronomer Amy Mainzer served as the film’s science advisor. Mainzer is a professor at the Lunar and Planetary Laboratory at the University of Arizona, and she’s also the principal investigator for the “NEOWISE,” which is a NASA mission that uses a space telescope to find comets and asteroids. Mainzer will soon lead the Near-Earth Object Surveyor Mission, whose goal is to locate and track space debris that could threaten the Earth and its occupants. With her otherworldly resume, Mainzer was definitely a perfect asset for the film’s production.
“Don’t Look Up” details the story of scientists Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) who discover an asteroid hurtling toward Earth. As they further their calculations of the asteroid, Dibiasky and Mindy discover that the magnitude of the ball hurdling through space will cause fatal aftershocks to the planet.
In an effort to warn the people of Earth, the scientists approach the president of the United States, played by Meryl Streep, with the jaw-dropping discovery. To Dibiasky and Mindy’s surprise and dismay, Streep’s character completely disregards their concerns about the “planet killer” comet.
With the government against them, the band of scientists turn to the last outlet they have left: the media. The scientists share their findings to a newspaper similar to The New York Times, which leads to them being invited onto a popular talk show to discuss the contents of the article. During the interview, Dibiasky and Mindy break the news to the world, but it soon turns out in an unexpected way once again. The world morphs the cosmic discovery into a social media meme and a political conspiracy theory.
Peering past the Netflix original film’s witty and satirical approach to its very serious world-ending subject matter, its shocking realism illuminates the world’s reactions to the catastrophe looming above everyone’s heads.
Throughout the entire runtime, the film’s title — “Don’t Look Up” — is epitomized by the public’s stark political divide on the severity of the comet. On one hand, some of the world’s citizens, including Dibiasky and Mindy, push the slogan “Just Look Up.” Their side of the issue advocates for the world to look up and band together in an attempt to stop the extinction-level event that looms above. The slogan is opposed by the president’s slogan, “Don’t Look Up,” which gets pushed by the groups that believe the comet is a figment of the scientists’ imaginations.
Although it’s approached in a comedic, Saturday Night Live style, “Don’t Look Up” presents ideas that aren’t that far-fetched. While some movie critics deemed the film a flop – it broke DiCaprio’s “good films” streak with a shabby Rotten Tomatoes score — scientists are praising Netflix’s film metaphor as it shines an important light on the current climate crisis, which is typically disregarded.
UCLA climate scientist Daniel Swain gave his thoughts on “Don’t Look Up.” Swain said, “There’s obviously some criticism of the media in the film 一 I don’t think it’s a media problem, per se, it’s a societal problem.”
He continued, “But there are some scenes that were funny in the movie, but on further reflection not all that funny.” Swain referenced the scene in the film when the scientists go on the morning show to let the world know about the danger coming from above.
Peter Kalmus, climate scientist and author of “Being the Change: Live Well and Spark a Climate Revolution,” also weighed in on “Don’t Look Up” and what it says about the current climate debacle. “We live in a society in which, despite extraordinarily clear, present, and worsening climate danger, more than half of Republican members of Congress still say climate change is a hoax and many more wish to block action, and in which the official Democratic party platform still enshrines massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.”
Kalmus further explained, “Dismissing ‘Don’t Look Up’ as too obvious might say more about the critic than the film. It’s funny and terrifying because it conveys a certain cold truth that climate scientists and others who understand the full depth of the climate emergency are living every day. I hope that this movie, which comically depicts how hard it is to break through prevailing norms, actually helps break those norms in real life.”
The voices of climate scientists and the message that “Don’t Look Up” is trying to instill in its viewers can be ignored no longer. The planet is in trouble, and the longer we wait to make a change, the bigger the disaster will become. From Californians deprived of rain and masses of snow in Texas to polar bears dying and sea levels rising, the planet is desperately crying out for mercy.
To learn more about the ongoing climate crisis and to help make a difference, please refer to Climate Resources; together, we can save our world.