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“Don’t Look Up” Movie Review: A Star-Studded and Satirical Warning to Humankind

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at U Conn chapter.

[Editor’s Note: the following contains spoilers for “Don’t Look Up”]

When I saw Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi had released a new single ‘Just Look Up’ a few weeks ago, I was excited, to say the least. When I listened to the song, I was a bit shocked at some of the blunt lyrics: “Get your head out of your ass / Listen to the goddamn qualified scientists / We really f***d it up, f****d it up this time / Just look up … Turn off that s**t Fox News / ‘Cause you’re about to die soon everybody.” However, last week when I saw Adam McKay’s new film Don’t Look Up, for which the single was written, it all made sense. 

That snippet of lyrics pretty much sums up the not-so-subtle message of the film. Don’t Look Up is a political satire that follows Michigan State University astronomers Dr. Randall Mindy (played by Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (played by Jennifer Lawrence) who embark on a journey to warn mankind of their imminent extinction once they find a catastrophic comet headed toward Earth. What the two quirky scientists soon find, however, is that humanity is too preoccupied to care — even about the literal end of the world. 

The all-star cast of the film certainly plays to their strengths. DiCaprio gives an Oscar-worthy performance as a geeky researcher tempted by the benefits of notoriety; Lawrence serves some well-timed one-liners to keep things light, while also teetering on the verge of nervous breakdown; Meryl Streep plays the fictional world’s narcissistic and distracted president (think of her as a female Donald Trump); and Jonah Hill plays Streep’s chief of staff and son, a nepotism baby who is absolutely oblivious to proper procedure. Other notable performances from Timothée Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Rob Morgan, Himesh Patel, and even Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi make this cast one for the history books. 

During this film, I found myself uncontrollably laughing one minute, and feeling so frustrated I could cry the next. If you haven’t pieced it together yet, Don’t Look Up is an allegory for bureaucratic inaction during a crisis — specifically, I would argue, the climate change crisis we’re currently facing. Scientists have been warning the world for decades that the world is warming; that carbon dioxide levels are rising to a dangerous extent; and that if we continue to live a reckless lifestyle, the world as we know it will soon come to an end. Yet, we as a planet have not made nearly enough changes to halt the degradation of the atmosphere. Inaction has already caused irreversible, catastrophic damage to our planet, and some scientists even estimate we only have 12 more years to stop climate change. So, if we have had decades to do something about this, how did we let it get this bad? Are we going to wait until the world is literally ending in front of our eyes — until it is too late — to do something about it? This is exactly what Adam McKay explores in Don’t Look Up.

According to the film, there are several factors that contribute to our inaction. As much as Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence portray concerned, even panicked, scientists, they have trouble conveying the severity of the crisis in layman’s terms. Even when they are able to articulate that end times are among us, the government, the media, and the public all have different competing agendas. The president, Meryl Streep, is too concerned about winning the upcoming election to take action in fear that it would hurt her chances (even though there will be no election if the comet hits the Earth). She even begins a campaign ripe with disinformation and manipulation, urging the public ‘Don’t Look Up’ at the comet and to ignore the crisis (sounds familiar, Mr. Trump). Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry play daytime talk show hosts, who like to ‘keep it light’ on their show, ignoring the scientists’ warnings and putting more focus on the latest celebrity breakups than the life-altering science. Mark Rylance plays a billionaire CEO who would put mankind at risk in order to profit off of the comet. 

Does this all sound familiar? It should, because these are all reactions we are seeing to the climate change crisis in our own world. Don’t Look Up is satire, and it’s quite a funny film, but it feels all too real. As the film progresses, we as an audience begin to realize that the world is going to end; that despite six months of time to take action and the best technology to prevent destruction, humanity just can’t get it together and prevent the end of the world. The film ends on a family dinner; Dr. Mindy and his family, along with Kate and her new boyfriend (Timothée Chalamet) sit around the dinner table as the world quite literally falls apart around them. The group remarks that they really “had it all,” and act out a moment of normalcy and small talk in their last moments of existence. 

Don’t Look Up is ambitious. It takes on climate change, inaction in a crisis, political polarization, bureaucracy, specific political figures, America’s obsession with celebrity, disinformation, conspiracy theories, major corporations, and more — but most importantly, Don’t Look Up serves as a warning. The ‘comet’ is coming. Climate change will bring the end of time unless we don’t act soon. Saving our planet requires an intentional, multifaceted, and concerted effort on behalf of world leaders and everyday citizens alike. It’s just a matter of doing it— before it’s too late. 

You can see Don’t Look Up in select theaters today, or wait until it is released on Netflix on December 24, 2021.

Molly was the 2022-2023 President and Editor-in-Chief of Her Campus UConn after serving as Treasurer, Vice President, and a Contributing Writer. She graduated in May 2023 with a Bachelor of Arts in Communication with English and Political Science minors. You can find her at https://www.molly-mcguigan.com