‘Don’t Look Up’ Is No Laughing Matter

The film depicts a society gone mad, just like the real one, writes Joe Lauria.

Don’t Look Up- Jonah Hill as Jason Orlean, Leonardo DiCaprio as Dr. Randall Mindy, Meryl Streep as President Janie Orlean, Jennifer Lawrence as Kate Dibiasky. (Niko Tavernise/NETFLIX © 2021)

By Joe Lauria
Special to Consortium News

The biggest mistake that the new film Don’t Look Up makes is to bill itself as a comedy. It isn’t really funny at all. Instead it is deadly serious and chilling as it accurately depicts how American society would react to a real, existential crisis.

First, such a crisis would be ignored in favor of celebrity news, then it would be scorned, science would be belittled, millions of people on social media would not believe it even when the establishment accepted it was true and then the corporate-controlled government would find a way to prevent mankind from being saved in favor of making a profit. 

The film uses an impending, life-destroying comet headed directly to earth as a metaphor for the much slower, but not slow-enough, existential threat of climate catastrophe. There are many people who do not believe climate change is real, climate science is scorned, celebrity news drowns out climate news and other serious topics and corporate control of government, namely the fossil fuel industry, is preventing mankind from being saved in favor of making a profit.

NASA says the possibility of a comet directly hitting earth is at least 100 years off. In the meantime, it has a space program,  Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART), test launched just two weeks ago, that would send spacecraft towards threatening asteroids to deflect them off course.

This method is portrayed in the film as the first attempt at salvation, until a creepy figure, clearly a composite of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos, convinces the U.S. president, played by Meryl Streep, to call it off. The billionaire in the film is the president’s top donor and is worshiped the way those three real billionaires are, as visionaries — and not just the profit-driven businessmen that they are.

Streep’s Trump-like president gets away with previously taboo behavior, loved by her hard-right, working class fans, but is driven by winning elections and getting her nominees approved, like any president.

A manipulated and debased public is prone to revolt each time they realize they are being duped. In the meantime, their ill-informed and herd-like presence on social media is constant and menacing.

It’s a society gone mad, just like the real one.

The film’s top stars — Streep, Leonardo DiCaprio, Cate Blanchett and Jennifer Lawrence — have helped catapult Don’t Look Up to the number one film on Netflix just days after its Christmas Eve release.

The story is by Adam McKay and David Sirota and directed by McKay.

As a “comedy” audiences can just laugh it off. But we laugh at our own peril.

Joe Lauria is editor-in-chief of Consortium News and a former U.N. correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, and numerous other newspapers. He was an investigative reporter for the Sunday Times of London and began his professional work as a 19-year old stringer for The New York Times.  He can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @unjoe  

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49 comments for “‘Don’t Look Up’ Is No Laughing Matter

  1. jaycee
    December 30, 2021 at 03:46

    While certainly not a thoroughly accomplished satire on the level of “Dr. Strangelove”, the bashing the film has received by establishment “liberal” venues is interesting. (see Movie Review Query Engine for quick synopsis hXXps://www.mrqe.com/movie_reviews/dont-look-up-m100138760#) I suspect the reason for this is described well by Joe Laura’s take.

  2. December 30, 2021 at 01:13

    Fantastic review Joe! I’d just gotten off facebook explaining it as an extended metaphor not just about climate change but as you say, our propensity to deny something happening before our eyes while the main stream media propagandizes for the government and corporate class. I was spitting chips because the Guardian’s Charles Bramesco has written a self righteous pompous little piece on it – and I wanted to give him a piece of my mind but alas! Not a subscriber so can’t comment! hXXps://www.theguardian.com/film/2021/dec/27/look-away-why-star-studded-comet-satire-dont-look-up-is-a-disaster?CMP=Share_iOSApp_Other

  3. Ian
    December 30, 2021 at 01:10

    I found this movie to be a huge bummer, and I think in a way it writes the obituary for the world as run by the US and capitalism. One big possibility the film discounts is that OTHER societies might be able to do what the US is to paralyzed with institutional corruption to do.

    In equal levels of depressing satire I think another ending would be China knocking away the comet and America being so humiliated starts WWIII and blows up the planet anyway.

    • Consortiumnews.com
      December 30, 2021 at 01:36

      As the film shows, an effort to do just that by Russia, China and India failed.

      • Ian
        December 30, 2021 at 15:17

        Indeed. Maybe narrative utility, but also some cultural chauvinism. (they also only tried after being cut out of the mineral rights)

      • Ümit
        December 30, 2021 at 18:18

        Failed, or was sabotaged? The film leaves that to the viewer (or decided to during the editing).

        • Consortiumnews.com
          December 30, 2021 at 19:16

          The character who took the call and told the others said the mission failed. You can interpret it as you like but the film does not say it was sabotage.

  4. Roger Timothy Slattery
    December 30, 2021 at 00:58

    At first, I, too, interpreted “Don’t Look Up” as a savage critique of big media propaganda, cynical politicians and operatives, and big tech political hegemony. But then I thought, why would Hollywood make and distribute such a film to Netflix-viewing masses? The answer is the film’s conclusion: narrowly a warm message of “family is most important” but broadly a subtle message that well-intentioned efforts to cut through the madness will not prevail and the only sensible option is to give up and accept the good things we have in the short time we have left. I believe that is the intented take-home propaganda.

  5. Dean Edwards
    December 29, 2021 at 23:44

    The coping mechanisms, important for humans, which enable them to ‘continue on’ through stressful conditions, have shown to be a liability when dealing with an evolving existential threat. Evolution has not prepared us for ‘climate change’ or ‘mass extinction’ events. The ‘types’ of individuals who can lead a prolonged campaign are discouraged in our ‘consumer driven untellectual ghettos’. The ‘vested class’ have their energies focused on their economic ecology. The politicians grooming the room for support and alliances. The western media, all but a few, are lost in the rinse cycle of information washing. I’m afraid it will be a succession of downward spirals leading to mass death and turf wars. It’s just ashame, if we’d adopted a better path and made better choices …. but we ran with the ‘wealth and self mantra’.

  6. JoeG
    December 29, 2021 at 21:22

    Only Biden would be that easily duped. Trump’s issue was he didn’t bow the the super rich.

  7. John Zwiebel
    December 29, 2021 at 19:44

    For some reason that escapes me, I have to try one more time to say that of the people I know who watched the show (and surprisingly enough we all independently chose to watch in within hours of one another) found it hilarious.

    Yeah, the situation is serious.
    Yeah, people are ignoring it.
    Yeah, we’re all gonna die.
    Yeah, it is “real”

    It was still funny as hell and had us rolling on the floor.
    All the dour comments to the contrary.

    While not nearly as funny, Netflix “Death to 2021” — somewhat redeemed by Stockard Channing still told “the truth” and “was real” and ended up being “ignored”.

    Why the (apparent) insistence we can’t laugh at death?

  8. December 29, 2021 at 19:03

    I’ve been working as a climate activist for the last 8 years, and have to say, I found this movie HILARIOUS. At least in the “holy crap, someone else understands how f****d we are and what it’s like to get people to understand” way. It’s a tense, bitter, wry but thoroughly cathartic laugh from start to finish.

    There should be mass watch parties and group discussions on this one.

    • JoeG
      December 29, 2021 at 21:24

      Climate activists usually don’t understand the science.

  9. Daniel
    December 29, 2021 at 13:40

    For me, the question is: why make a ‘comedy’ at all on this subject? So that the film makers can prove themselves clever? Sounds more like a psychological exercise for them (to prove themselves smarter than those not in their tribe?) and nothing for the rest of us to bother with. Plus, reviews have not been kind, exactly as I anticipated. I’ll pass.

    • jean b palmer
      December 29, 2021 at 15:47

      In the end all we have left is satire? that’s all I can think of… David Sirota is too much of a serious journalist to resort only to ‘comedy.’ I think he is hoping this grabs people who haven’t been tuning in? At least I hope that is true. It could have been more subtle (?) like Dr. Strangelove but that wouldn’t have worked in this country (or the world) these days I sadly think. so kudos to Sirota IMHO! To be honest I didn’t laugh at the film much. Too close to reality.

      • Dean Edwards
        December 29, 2021 at 21:12

        Assange delivered a package of truth and look where it’s gotten him. Satire is viable in a neo-liberal domian, clever yet, not yet threatening. The codifications of a satirised absurdist profit driven society runs parallel to the codes of over-reach, political push-back and self- promotion. To the powerful, it must appear as an irritant, much like a teenager learning to play the social game.

    • David
      December 29, 2021 at 20:36

      Hmm, you sound like you are having to make up reasons why you won’t watch it. Go ahead, give it a watch. The critics on this are looking for reasons to trash it too. Maybe that’s the best reason to watch it!

      • Daniel
        December 30, 2021 at 11:36

        I appreciate the comment, but I’m not having ‘to make up reasons’, I just have reasons. And how do you now that ‘critics are looking for reasons to trash’ the film? Couldn’t they simply be judging it to be a swing and a miss?

    • Dean Edwards
      December 29, 2021 at 20:55

      Rusted on. What is the value of your comment. Attitudes are often knee-jerk responses designed to calm our own fears and dilute the purpose of meaningful thought. Next time just pass.

  10. Robert Emmett
    December 29, 2021 at 10:46

    “Don’t Look Up” shows how those bound to uphold the status quo ante seemingly will not be moved to safeguard human survival until it’s nearly too late. And even then, their techno-wiz-based response will be geared to the wealthy and will fail for most people in the world. (Notice how the movie is entirely US-centric.)

    As long as humans allow ourselves to hate the other and to be broken into factions then those who decide where to spend the big money will continue to do the opposite of what needs to be done and to stymie change. Ironically, the movie depicts that fairly well.

    Now if you want to see how that kind of obstructionism actually works in our new Turd Blossom reality, then the doc “Merchants of Doubt” ought to make your blood boil.

    • Dean Edwards
      December 29, 2021 at 21:26

      Dare the Chinese, Russians, Eurozone or any other technocratic and capable society dare to solve the world’s problems. It is the Americans who lay soverign claim to all things righteous. The exclusion of other countries in the narrative, only highlights the authors intent to satirise the arrogance and can-do attitude of America. American culture continually down focuses on the capabilities, privileges and rights of the individual. Ultimately the film will make a lot of money. Another confection to consume … it is a shame that truth must be encoded and often not decoded by the audience.

  11. December 29, 2021 at 08:49

    There are too many ‘real-world’ similarities in Don’t Look Up to our present-day predicaments to list. For me, the one that sticks out is the manipulation of thought/behaviour by the ruling class (and it matters not which side of the political spectrum one sits; power always leverages crises to their advantage, be it political or corporate/economic power–the two of which are intimately linked).

    We see this very clearly in the way in which climate concerns have been used to keep the focus off the underlying issue of ecological overshoot (of which the overloading of various planetary sinks, such as atmospheric loading of greenhouse gases, is but one result; and perhaps not the worst), and use our fear of impending climate changes to sell us on a ‘green/clean’ energy transition (which is increasingly being shown to be not ‘green/clean’ nor sustainable, but very much environmentally-/ecologically-destructive) to meet their primary motivation: the control/expansion of the wealth-generating/extraction systems that provide their revenue streams.

    The result? Just as in the movie, we see a divided world that pins its hopes on human ingenuity, hubris, and technology but ultimately succumbs to its denial and ignorance thanks, primarily, to a ruling class that can’t seem to help itself in attempting to maintain its place atop the power and wealth structures of our complex societies.

  12. Martin Braithwaite
    December 29, 2021 at 05:35

    Sadly no mention for Mark Rylance who delivers (as always) a magnificent performance . (The ‘creepy figure’ clearly a composite of Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos).

  13. Don Honaan
    December 28, 2021 at 23:47

    I liked it. It was sobering satire, but let’s call it comedy if that draws more moviegoers.

    Let people be reminded as often as possible — to value and serve life is the highest thing. Self-serving politics, media, and capitalism — well that’s just pathetic.

  14. Ted Tripp
    December 28, 2021 at 22:06

    Right on, Joe, but you need not include Steve Jobs with Musk and Bezos, just because he worked in technology. His effort to develop the Macintosh computer was essential to freeing up computing technology.
    I met Steve once as we have the same teacher, Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi. Any one who practices Zen cannot be entirely corrupt, and I found Steve Jobs to be a thoroughly nice man.

  15. Sirka
    December 28, 2021 at 20:37

    Saw the trailer and was trying to figure out if it was supposed to be a comedy or what, then I decided it looked too real and I don’t need to be parodied on the big screen. I’ll pass.

  16. gcw919
    December 28, 2021 at 18:23

    Perhaps the stars in the movie will now pledge to stop using private jets to go to their favorite vacation spots in the Med and the Caribbean.

  17. December 28, 2021 at 14:17

    Love the tatoo on one of the most elegant women in film! As Mae West said of her own tatoo… ” I never leave home without it!”

  18. rosemerry
    December 28, 2021 at 14:12

    I hope I can get to see it before the real version arrives.

  19. Linda Wood
    December 28, 2021 at 13:30

    I found “Don’t Look Up” to be much closer to the reality that we are on a knife’s edge of nuclear war in Eastern Europe than to environmental disaster. The nuclear weapons industry and NATO clearly want a nuclear war and appear to find the loss of life on earth as an acceptable outcome, possibly relying on a fantasy that some elite survivors would continue a hunter/gatherer existance in New Zealand.

    There appears to be no understanding of Mutually Assured Destruction among the media. None. First Use means nothing to them. A 5-7 minute response time for the Russians means zilch. I agree with Joe Lauria that the truth of our situation is much worse than this fiction.

  20. Richard Ong
    December 28, 2021 at 13:12

    Yes. We’re all going to die from variable climate change. The end is nigh.

    • Jon Adams
      December 28, 2021 at 16:33

      We live in the “anthropocene age”. Human activity is causing changes in climate.

  21. Jon Adams
    December 28, 2021 at 12:27

    The movie critic for the Wall Street Journal complains that “Don’t Look Up” portrays everyone as “nincompoops.” I would say that that would make “Don’t Look Up” a documentary.

  22. Gerry Beal
    December 28, 2021 at 12:04

    Ron Suskind is also.imvolved in this movies production I believe..

  23. Dwight L Spencer, Ph. D.
    December 28, 2021 at 10:33

    Yes, I watched it, too, and completely agree with Joe. A deep satire on America that is VERY, VERY close to the truth.

    • Jon Adams
      December 28, 2021 at 12:27

      Meryl Streep plays a “Hillary/Donald” mix. It’s too close to the truth.

  24. Em
    December 28, 2021 at 08:32

    Surely the film “Don’t Look Up”, described with such palpable anger, did not “bill itself as a comedy”? This billing was NO mistake. It was intentional!
    This is the way the propaganda machine, which output, in one form or another, we daily blithely absorb – in our oblivion. Its intent is to further divert what little daily awareness we function with. It is in full awareness of their actions that the ‘pushers’ pursue their intentions – to promote the goals of the powers-that-be, whomever they are; Hollywood being but one arm of the Bernays monster that has kept the populace – the audience, so spellbound for so long.
    [Speaking literally, “’we’ are no(t) in the Sixth Great Extinction.” Homo-Sapiens was not around for the previous five great extinctions. In fact, man ‘unkind’ has never been in the predicament of the ‘now’ we find ourselves in, and in fact had nothing to do with the causes, or effects, of the previous planetary devastations… just saying, food for thought!
    Perhaps “(e)ven those who do recognize global warming/climate change for the existential problem it is, still prioritize money & business over environmental concerns”, because they see the insignificance of the irrationally thinking species, to the survival of planet Earth, in the infinite cosmos, and this notion is but one of the drivers of the callous development of their individual, but highly irrational tendencies, for insatiable greed.] Note: quotes from Scheer/Hedges article

    • Grace
      December 28, 2021 at 20:49

      right on comment

  25. Dr. Hujjathullah M.H.B. Sahib
    December 28, 2021 at 01:52

    Just as the billionaires laughing their way to the bank to pocket their first trillion we the masses are left to laugh at ourselves for being oblivious to the creeping doom that threatens to wipe out our mundane lives albeit in a protracted way.

    • John Ressler
      December 28, 2021 at 15:23

      O u c h ! But truly oblivious to what’s around the bend.

    • Grace
      December 28, 2021 at 20:51

      Great comment! That is what it boils down to.

  26. Joe Lauria
    December 27, 2021 at 19:29

    I also found it very bad comedy, as in not laughing once. And too close to reality to be satire.

    • Brian Keane
      December 28, 2021 at 10:25

      Joe ..Exactly

    • Jon Adams
      December 28, 2021 at 12:28

      RE. “Don’t Look Up”. yes some people were disturbed from the beginning to the end. It’s too real.

      • Dean
        December 29, 2021 at 23:58

        The coping mechanisms, important for humans, which enable them to ‘continue on’ through stressful conditions, have shown to be a liability when dealing with an evolving existential threat. Evolution has not prepared us for ‘climate change’ or ‘mass extinction’ events. The ‘types’ of individuals who can lead a prolonged campaign are discouraged in our ‘consumer driven untellectual ghettos’. The ‘vested class’ have their energies focused on their economic ecology. The politicians grooming the room for support and alliances. The western media, all but a few, are lost in the rinse cycle of information washing. I’m afraid it will be a succession of downward spirals leading to mass death and turf wars. It’s just ashame, if we’d adopted a better path and made better choices …. but we ran with the ‘wealth and self mantra’.

    • Helga Fellay
      December 28, 2021 at 13:36

      I suspect the film makers didn’t intend to make the audience laugh. Comedies are written to make people laugh. Satires such as this are written with the intention of making viewers think, and possibly cry.

      • robert e williamson jr
        December 29, 2021 at 18:13

        Helga 12/28/2021 @ 13:36 You hit it dead on the nose.

        Jon Adams re: “Don’t Look Up”. “It’s too real.”

        I strongly suspect that the effort was to make the movie as realistic as they could. The idea being to get the point across about just how scary the world really is. Audiences liking the movie or not doesn’t mean they didn’t get their money’s worth. Buy the ticket, take the ride, ( Hunter S Thompson).

        I haven’t viewed this “movie”, prolly will not. The real world scares the hell out of me I don’t need reminders.

        From what I read here sounds as if they made a scary film, something that stirs fear into the viewers take on reality. A very realistic effort I assume. Good! Far too many need to be shocked into consciousness

        I figure it can’t hurt anything. Some morbid messaging / entertainment formulated to shock the sheep into considering their reality maybe.

        As for the black, dark satire, little humor there as intended. Funny, yes it very well could be; 2 funny: difficult to understand or explain | strange or odd.

        Of course, could be the joke is on the paying customer who for some reason sees fit to seek Hollywood’s take on the tragedy of today’s world.

        They market it as a “comedy” maybe because the demographics from marketing told them the “dumbed down” American audiences won’t pay to see satire.

        To quote the Author here, “A society gone mad, just like the real one. ”

        Mr. Lauria with deep respect I will differ with you on your Statement “The film is too close to reality to be satire”. I’m sure you would agree we live in uncharted and potentially deadly waters these days. I do not see the harm in giving the masses a hard kick in the ass to get them to think.

        Maybe in this case the deadly serious topic demands cutting edge ultra-realistic satire. Desperate times call for desperate measures. Making some of the most spoiled humans on the planet a little uncomfortable is exactly what is desperately needed. Pun intended!

        Thank you Joe and CN

        • Consortiumnews.com
          December 30, 2021 at 00:15

          American society is beyond satire.

          • robert e williamson jr
            December 30, 2021 at 13:51

            And repair.

            Thanks Joe & Co. @ CN

Comments are closed.