The media sensation of “Don’t Look Up”
The star-studded Don’t Look Up tells the story of two astronomers, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, as they try to warn the world of an incoming comet.
The comet, named “comet Dibiasky” after Lawrence’s character, they fear will wipe out human civilisation as we know it. It is quite clear by the end of the first thirty minutes that this comet stands for something larger. It is almost unquestionably a metaphor for climate change. A cause that DiCaprio is a champion for.
The warnings of the incoming disaster are mocked by politicians and exploited for profit by caricature business men. Mark Rylance’s tech-tycoon character, Peter Isherwell, is particularly poignant as what seems like a combination of Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk.
Don’t Look Up underwent a limited theatrical release on Dec 10, 2021, before streaming on Netflix on Dec 24. It received mixed reviews from critics, with some labelling its satire as “heavy-handed”. Other critics loved it praising it bold take on current issues.
The film was also heralded by many scientists as an important piece of filmmaking. Climate scientist Michael E. Mann praised the film labelling it as “serious sociopolitical commentary posing as comedy”.
As is always the case, the film had different success around the world. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of the global response came by way of Brazil. A social media storm was cooked up when the striking resemblance of the film to a Brazilian news broadcast was brought up. In the broadcast (Dec, 2020) TV Cultura told the population of Brazil to approach the Covid pandemic with “lightness”.
Don’t Look Up is now Netflix’s second most successful film globally. As of January 11, 2022, it has amassed an enormous 321,520,000 total viewing hours. It now sits behind the international spy-flick Red Notice, which, as of the same time, holds 364,020,000 total viewing hours.
Film: the truth to the story
Many viewers praised the film’s obvious satirical nature, with the tagline “Based on truly possible events”, as refreshing and original. However, the very concept of satirical filmmaking that reacts to the present socio-political climate is not a novel idea at all.
Some of the most famous examples of these types of films are; Stanley Kubrick’s Dr Strangelove, and Elia Kazan’s On the Waterfront. Both of which satirise the political climate of the mid-20th century.
More recent examples of these satirical films are the now cult-classics Fight Club and American Psycho. Both of which critique the changing tides of masculinity at the turn of the millennium.
Although satirical films have clearly been popular before both the frequency in which they are created and the popularity of them seems to have waned recently. Don’t Look Up seems to buck this trend. But why?
It could simply be that the ensemble cast and a strong media campaign (as is usually the case with Netflix) have led to the film’s popularity. It could also be that the film is simply just laugh-out-loud funny and that is why people like it. Or there could be something more going on.
Watching and reacting
Yes, the film is funny and yes, it has a star-studded cast. But this does not seem to be what people are focusing on. Time and time again it’s the satirical metaphor that critics and casual viewers alike have returned to.
Most importantly, movies like these, which speak to the audience directly, call for action. Through great scripts, actors, special effects and plots, the audience feels compelled to ‘look up’.
So perhaps we can expect to see more films like this in the years to come. Although the concept of ‘social issues dramas’ is in no way novel, it still feels fresh and original and is a pleasant change from the sometimes-repetitive comedies of recent years.