‘Don’t Look Up’ is just what we need

Eliott Edge
4 min readDec 30, 2021

--

Don’t Look Up is about how mass media, politics, and capitalism naturally slither together, co-conspiring to create false realties, ideologies, and agendas in order to assuage humanity from recognizing that, quite simply, we are all in very big trouble.

In this film, the big trouble is an extinction level event — a planet-killing comet that is scientifically peer-reviewed and 100% certain (well 97.6% certain) to wipe out all life on earth.

Science, peer-review, and common sense attempt to hold back and confront these forces, but it lacks the “media training” to breakthrough the clamor of spectacle and optics needed to reach a numbed mass audience. But there is some give. Some people do run amok once they realize “we’re all gonna die.”

The movie is peer-reviewed science vs capitalist ideology; a tension we’re all too familiar with these days. Things twist once it is discovered the comet is brimming with rare earth minerals that are worth over 100 trillion dollars. So the plan shifts from destroying the comet to mining it for money. It will actually save humanity! Trillion dollar astroids have been discovered in our solar system, so there is a real world basis for this idea.

But it’s the title of the film that drives home a message of false consciousness. It occurs as a slogan in the film: Don’t look up at the planet-killing comet that’s on its way to extinguish all life as we know it. Don’t look up at the writing on the wall, or the comet’s tail in the sky. At one point, Meryl Streep, who plays a kind of Republican-esque Hillary Clinton, urges her base to look down and move forward. From the covid pandemic to the climate crisis to class inequity, “don’t look up” is a perfect message to keep workers working and consumers consuming, even if means sucking the marrow out of the bones of a dying world.

The slogan couldn’t be more apt. It can even apply it to the cosmological blasphemies of heliocentrism or multiple solar systems when Galileo and Bruno first proposed them to the scientific gatekeeping of the church. Galileo was censored, Bruno was burned at the stake.

The satire is drawn from false consciousness, which is always a ripe fruit for a comedy (or a tragedy.) Borrowing from Michael Sugrue borrowing from Marx, “What we mean by alienation is necessarily false consciousness in defense of class interests.” That is what Don’t Look Up is about: maintaining a false consciousness at all costs, even when the arrow of death is the size of a comet and heading straight for you and all that you love. False consciousness is necessary to keep the status quo running. As we now know, a mere ten days without workers is enough to critically injure the world economy. Who knew global capitalism was so vulnerable?

Some of the satire is a little heavy handed and some of the gags don’t quite land, but it’s not thick enough to tank what amounts to be a very funny and extremely relevant film.

DiCaprio, a longtime climate activist said, “I had been waiting patiently for something like this.” I have too. There are plenty of extinction movies, but not since Dr. Strangelove have I seen one as effective and as downright funny.

Comedy is something human beings sometimes need to address a staggering tragedy. The question is does the comedy pave the way for new thoughts and behaviors, or does it pacify us into numbed observers to our own total destruction?

Don’t Look Up doesn’t pull punches. It’s a comedy about catastrophic doom, one that I find very welcome right now. Like jokes that come in three parts, or words that start with the letter ‘k,’ one of the classic formulas for comedy is tragedy plus timing. The question now is do we have the time to turn this tragedy of the human enterprise around into something reminiscent of sanity? Dicaprio answers this by screaming, “Would you please, just stop being so [bleep] pleasant? I’m sorry, but not everything needs to sound so goddamn clever or charming or likable all the time. Sometimes we need to just be able to say things to one another. We need to hear things! Look, let’s establish, once again, that there is a huge comet headed towards Earth. And the reason we know that there is a comet is because we saw it. We saw it with our own eyes using a telescope. I mean, for God’s sake, we took a fucking picture of it! What other proof do we need?”

This is a movie that should be seen by everyone. It is an eerily perfect film to cap our sophomore year of the pandemic, and an excellent comedic mirror to examine our own actions as the dominant (and therefore the most responsible) species on this planet. I couldn’t recommend it more.

(A-) DON’T LOOK UP

--

--

Eliott Edge

Author of '3 Essays on Virtual Reality', global speaker, artist, humorist, futurist, netizen, critic & psychonaut Patreon.com/OddEdges EliottEdge.com IEET.org