(Warning: Spoilers for the above mentioned film exist below this text. If you haven’t viewed this film and think you might want to in the future, you might want to skip this post for now.)
A couple nights ago, my husband and I finally got around to watching Adam McKay’s satire Don’t Look Up on Netflix. When I first saw the movie trailer a while ago, it intrigued me. Then I happened upon myriad reviews by professional film critics and, based on their nearly universal panning of the film, I almost skipped it. I am glad I did not because it has been turning over and over in my head since I watched it Saturday night.
Don’t Look Up is a satirical film about American scientists who discover a planet-killer comet on a collision course with Earth. Try as they might to inspire the government and the American public at large to take this threat seriously, no one really seems to. The messaging just isn’t there, and people are too distracted by noise (social media, famous personas, politics, faux news, and their own biases and self-absorption) to check in long enough to realize this is the end of the world as we know it. They are so busy looking down that they don’t even see the comet hurtling towards earth until it’s too late.
McKay has stated that the film is about our lack of response to the scientific evidence behind climate change (Al Gore would agree this is a problem), and if writer/director McKay says that is what is about then I guess that is what it is about. And while it had to be cathartic for climate activist Leonardo DiCaprio to embark on a thinly veiled, paid, unhinged rant in the film about our combined ignorance and lack of action on the comet (climate change), I still only vaguely felt that was the true impactful message of the film. Sorry, Mr. McKay.
What I took away from the film, if you strip away all the comet nonsense and/or any topic you want to insert in its place (like the pandemic), is that Americans are lost. Like, literally unable to see what is happening right in front of our faces, running-around-blinded-to-reality lost. Why are we lost this way? Because our heads are always downturned towards the phones in our hands. This is the irony of the phrase and the movie title “don’t look up.” If we were able to unplug ourselves from our phones, social media, the siren’s call of the text message alert, Google in all its iterations, and all the myriad other distractions we hang our lives on in the palm of our hands rather than paying attention to what is happening in our immediate surroundings, then we might be capable of fixing the broken planet. As it is, with our acquired inability to focus on the present and our acquired ability to check out of reality constantly, we really are doomed. Distracted by shiny objects in the film, a comet wipes out the planet because people literally can’t, or won’t, look up and see it approaching. Distracted by shiny objects in America today, we have ignored climate change, bickered about personal freedoms rather than focusing on public health during a pandemic, and concentrated more on the romance between Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck than on the crisis happening in our democracy. We seriously are our own worst enemies. The film drives this point right off a cliff like Toonces the Driving Cat.
I have to say that by the end of the movie, I was rooting for the comet to wipe everyone out.
I know there is still good in the world. The only way to find it, though, is to step away from our screens and get back to the work of being human, of interacting with each other in person and not through anonymous mean-girl comments online, of recognizing our shared humanity and acting like adults. Yes. It’s hard work. And it will be even more difficult now that we’ve grown accustomed to our distractions. We are out of practice. But if we’re to stem a climate change meltdown or pull ourselves out of this pandemic or restore faith in our fellow citizens and our democracy, or maybe even destroy a yet unseen comet heading our way, this is what we need to do. We need to step away from our devices, read more, and brush up on our interpersonal communication skills. The dinosaurs lasted approximately 165 million years. Modern humans have only been around 200,000 years. I’m no longer sure that homo sapiens were named correctly. I don’t think we’re all that wise.