Director: Adam McKay
Genre: Sci-Fi/ Comedy
Runtime: 138 minutes
Don’t Look Up is a 2021 English language apocalyptic political satire film released in written, co-produced, and directed by Adam McKay from a story he co-wrote with David Sirota. The cast includes Leonardo DiCaprio in the lead and other popular actors like Jennifer Lawrence, Rob Morgan, Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Tyler Perry, etc. playing pivotal roles. The American film with a runtime of 138 minutes was widely acclaimed among the critics as a great film for someone with a taste for dark humour and social satire.
The first scene in Don’t Look Up takes place at Michigan State University, where Lawrence’s character, Kate Dibiasky, a Ph.D. student in astronomy, uses the Subaru Telescope to find a previously unknown near-Earth asteroid. She tells her professor Dr.Randall Mindy (DiCaprio) about her discovery, and to their dismay, they learn that the object is a comet that would strike the world in six months, causing an extinction. President Janie and her son, Chief of Staff Jason Orlean, treat them with a great deal of indifference. They disregard the news as unimportant. Teddy implores Kate and Randall to release the information to the media to gain attention, but that also backfires. They appear on a morning talk show hosted by Brie Evantee and Jack Bremmer, where they share alarming information regarding the planet’s demise. Unexpectedly, the hosts begin to laugh, and Kate becomes upset at their actions. To draw attention away from a sex scandal she becomes embroiled in, Janie has the director of NASA publicly refute the threat, but she later fires him herself. She reveals that the government intends to launch a spaceship into orbit in order to use weaponry to hit the comet and change its course. According to schedule, the shuttle takes off, but Peter Isherwell, the billionaire CEO of BASH and one of Janie’s top benefactors, forces it to return. He reveals that the comet contains priceless materials that are worth many trillions of dollars. This persuades the White House to gently rupture the comet and retrieve its fragments for industrial use from the ocean. While appointing Randall as the new National Science Advisor, the authorities snub Kate and Teddy. Kate, who is upset with how the government is handling the situation, claims that the top officials intend to let the comet hit the planet, causing an international uproar and riots. The government intimidates Kate and silences her as there is disagreement around the world about what should be done with the comet. Following a threat, Kate returns to Illinois and begins dating a young man named Yule, while Randall’s wife June learns of his infidelity at the same time. After this episode, he loses control and acts out on live television. He launches into a vicious tirade, accusing Orlean’s administration of delaying the impending end of the world and blaming humanity for its callousness. Naturally, the government cuts off Randall and he makes up with Kate just as the comet is finally seen from Earth, causing a disturbance in the populace. Teddy, Kate, and Randall launch the “Just Look Up” internet protest movement against Janie and BASH in an effort to attract support. They also exhort other nations to try and start comet-destroying activities. To reinforce their position, the White House Administration develops a competing campaign named “Don’t Look Up.” But the BASH mission fails and the planet life is destroyed while Peter along with the president and other billionaires escape in a spaceship and is cryogenically preserved until they find an earth-like planet.
We could witness conflicts between various binaries in the film. According to structuralism, binary opposition or binary conflict is the technique of classifying two ideas or concepts into opposing groups to examine how they relate to and interact with one another. People frequently establish binary opposition in real life, which can result in issues of exclusion and oppression in society, but the idea can also be used in writing. In literary contexts, the term “binary opposition” usually refers to groups of characters that can be divided into groups that are in opposition to one another. This classification enables authors to explore the motivations behind it and, on occasion, to dissect the potential harm that binary opposition may cause. The prominent one among them is the satirical exaggeration of scientific facts and how they are being denied in a highly politicized world by leaders. Politics and science, which are supposed to go hand in hand in society come into conflict when the administration is corrupt. World leaders make their decisions to benefit only the upper class, leaving behind the warning of a possible apocalypse in the trash. Humour is used in the film to poke at these tendencies in contemporary society, media, and political structure. Along with the indiscriminate manipulation of science, the film strongly emphasises how mass media can be often misleading and manipulates the public for capitalist gains. Scientific findings are questioned and are made anomalous for political needs. Hence, it is right to say that the film shows the conflict between science and politics. Framed within a pseudo-apocalypse background, the film doesn’t end like normal sci-fi with the world ending. It doesn’t have heroes or any twists and solutions. It is as realistic as what could happen if this was real. Di Caprio’s nerd professor and Jennifer Lawrence’s smart, spontaneous scientist are one-among-us yet memorable with the nonchalant depiction of all the sad truths that happen daily in our communities. The film is a warning about the overt manipulation of world leaders to rise to power and fame by sabotaging science and other factual information.
Indifference is another important theme presented throughout the film, where we could see people from different realms of society showing ignorance or apathy towards serious issues happening around them. Indifference could be defined as something that becomes problematic when there is a profound kind of rejection or lack of concern, interest, or enthusiasm for something important that could affect the life of people, yet they run behind puny matters. Throughout the film we see this indifference where both the well-educated group of people and the normal mob ignore a very serious disaster awaiting them as they are easily manipulated by power and greed. The very first indifference we see from the President herself and her son, who is not at all worried about the people’s safety or extinction but just wants to win the election at any cost. The media anchors who invite the scientists to discuss the big matter ends up mocking them which results in an outburst from Kate who is further trolled on social media. Here the media are showing great ignorance of such an emergency turning it into a mere joke. This approach even makes people think the same way which is something really dangerous and its aftermath is experienced by each and everyone in the end.
The film discusses these two themes with utmost importance from beginning to end. Science is often manipulated by politicians and other administrators in our society for their selfish needs and pseudoscience is often imposed on the public killing their scientific temper. Even in the film too, the politicians misuse science to improve their vote banks and to create profits for their donors like Peter Isherwell. The genuine discoveries of the scientists were mocked by these politicians, corporates, media and finally the people. The indifference we see here is the perfect portrayal of humans toward various serious environmental issues like climate change, global warming, etc. People just ignore these scientific facts just because they are not much affected. But by the time they realise the truth, it would be too late to survive. When the state and media prompted the mob to be indifferent, as in creating movements like “Don’t Look Up”, they really wanted the society to be ignorant and apathetic so that their greed would be met without much difficulty. Hence the movie shows justice to the selected themes and becomes a warning to the fragmented governance and the ignorant crowd.