January 1, 2022
Kate, a grad student working with astronomer Randall, discovers a new comet. Will hit Earth in six months. Twice as big as the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.
That’s the start of the recent Netflix film Don’t Look Up. I wonder if it confuses comets and asteroids. But never mind.
Kate (Jennifer Lawrence) and Randall (Leonardo DiCaprio) sound the alarm through proper channels, resulting in a meeting with President Orlean (Meryl Streep). Here the fun begins. Orlean is somewhat distracted by a media circus surrounding her, ahem, unconventional Supreme Court nominee. She’s a goofball president (her equally silly son Jason (Jonah Hill of course) is chief of staff). And they cavalierly blow off the comet thing.
Kate and Randall nevertheless actually still think something should be done regarding humanity’s imminent extinction. They land an appearance on one of those morning “news” happy-talk shows. Its vacuous bubbliness deliciously rendered. Though Kate’s spiel is not exactly happy talk — after much silliness by the hosts, she manages to blurt out, “We’re all gonna die!” This killjoy is quickly gotten rid of. While Randall inadvertently manages to make a more favorable impression. Becoming a celeb — an AILF (substituting “astronomer” for “mother”).
Anyhow, it comes out that President Orlean’s been sleeping with her court pick, sending him “cooch pictures.” To distract from that mess, she has NASA organize a space mission to nuke the comet. But moments after the dramatic launch, it reverses course. Because, they’ve just learned, the comet contains trillions worth of rare minerals.
This is revealed by Peter, a billionaire tech guru, with an arresting aw-shucks false-naif persona. Mark Rylance steals the movie portraying this strange character, you can’t take your eyes off him. So Peter introduces, instead of destroying the comet, an alternate (ultra-capitalist) scheme of harvesting its riches, enough to solve all human problems. Assuming any humans will remain alive.
This film is deemed a climate change allegory — you know, humanity’s fecklessness in the face of coming catastrophe. Much commentary finds it smugly overdone. While our climate response can certainly be faulted, it’s nothing like the film’s pervasive idiocy. But I think it really sends up America’s whole current civic landscape. Evoking the movie Idiocracy, which I’ve written about. That one’s target was mainly cultural; the comet film is more pointedly political.
Of course there’s comet denialism, calling it a big hoax, to take away our freedom, our guns, or some such nonsense. The politicization explodes when, as the comet nears and is now visible in the sky, “Just look up!” becomes a catch-phrase meme. Countered, naturally, by “Don’t look up!” The parallel to anti-mask and anti-vaccine lunacy is all too obvious.
President Orlean holds a very Trump-like Don’t-look-up rally. With blatantly asinine rhetoric making this another us-against-them issue. But suddenly noticing the comet unignorably looming above, the crowd turns on her, shouting “Liar!” (If only life could imitate art.)
My wife and I agreed in foreseeing no happy ending; the planet would not be saved. Peter’s dicey scheme inevitably fails. Moments before the apocalypse, a final broadcast on the Foxlike “Patriot News” network tries to change the subject to some celebrity gossip.