Don’t Look Up is an American film that was released in 2021 and it tells the story of the apocalypse in a satirical way. Adam McKay wrote and co-produced alongside David Sirota. The film has a long list of popular Hollywood stars who include Rob Morgan, Leonard DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Jennifer Lawrence, Ron Perlman, Mark Rylance, Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, and Ron Perlman. The film tells the story of a couple of astronomers who attempt to warn the human race about a comet that is fast approaching telling them that it will destroy human civilization. The impact of the apocalyptic event is likened to what is currently happening with climate change and the film also contains innate satirical elements about the government, celebrities, politicians, and the kind of indifference that the media has demonstrated towards the issue of climate change and the ensuing issues caused by a changing climate. Don’t Look Up was produced by Bluegrass Films and Hyperobject Industries and its planned production was announced in November 2019. The film was originally set to be released in theaters by Paramount Pictures and the rights to the movie were bought by Netflix a couple of months later.
The context of the film is based on the story of Kate Dibiasky a Ph.D. candidate from the University of Michigan State who discovers a previously unknown comet. Her supervisor, Dr. Randall Mindy makes confirmation that the trajectory of the comet means that it is on a collision course with Earth for about six months since the discovery. According to Dibiasky and her supervisor, Dr. Mindy the size of the comet is large enough to cause the extinction of all life on planet earth. The National Space Agency (NASA) confirms the discovery of the comet and Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe who is the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office makes the trip together with Mindy and Dibiasky to present their discovery to the president in the White House. However, they are welcomed with apathy by the head of state and Janie Orlean, and the Chief of Staff who is also her son Jason. As a result, Oglethorpe pieces of advised Mindy and Dibiasky to reveal the news to the media which they do on the morning talk show (Little, 2020). However, the hosts of the show Brie Evantee and Jack Bremmer treat the topic as a joke which causes Dibiasky to lose her temper and rant about the impending threat. On the other hand, the public widely approves of Mindy for his looks while the actual news about the comet received little attention and to make things worse the Director of NASA denies the danger posed by the approaching comet. However, later when news breaks about Orlean’s sex scandal with one of the Supreme Court Nominees she confirms the threat as a way of distracting the attention of the public from the scandal and she announces a mission to strike and divert the trajectory of the comet by making use of nuclear weapons.
Even though the mission is successfully launched but Orlean aborts it abruptly after Peter Isherwell a wealthy CEO of a cellular company and a key top donor to NASA makes the discovery that the comet has within it rare-earth metals that are worth trillions of dollars. The white house makes the announcement that it will commercially use the comet by breaking it into pieces and then later recovering it from the ocean making use of technology developed by BASH electronics in a plan that has not yet been approved by experts and scientists. The opinion of the public is widely divided among those who believe that the comet poses a severe threat to the future of the planet and those who believe that the threat caused by the comet is being made to seem worse and that commercially exploiting the comet will create millions of jobs. In addition, some believe that there is a comet at all in the first place. In time both Mindy and Dibiasky get cut off from administration and later on when the comet can be seen from planet Earth they team up with Oglethorpe to organize a protest movement through the use of social media. The campaign is dubbed “Just look up” and they go ahead to urge other countries to conduct operations to intercept the comet. Russia, China, and India who had been cut off from the deal to commercially exploit the comet make a concerted effort to deflect the comet by their spacecraft explodes. At the same time, efforts by BASH to break up the comets fail and it is only then that everyone realizes that the future of life on earth is doomed. Orlean, Isherwelll, and other elites enter their circle to board space ship that searches for other planets which look like earth, and Jason is left behind. Mindy is offered two places on the ship but he refuses to take them and instead he makes the choice to spend the last evening with his family and friends. As had been expected the comets hit earth as it lands off the coast of Chile and they cause a global disaster that triggers an event that causes extinction. The shockwave of the comet strikes the house where Mindy and his family are huddled up killing everyone. In a scene in the middle of the film’s credits, the over two thousand individuals who had left earth before the comet struck land on a rich planet some 22,740 later bringing to an end their cryogenic sleep. They exit naked from the spacecraft and as they admire the new habitable planet Orlean is abruptly killed by a predatory bird which is part of the pack that surrounds the newcomers on the alien planet.
Analysis and Discussion
Several important themes come out from watching the film. First, is that Dibiasky a brilliant astronomer and Ph.D. candidate discovers the comet that is on a collision course with the planet earth she informs her supervisor of the same and he confirms her discovery. Even though it is Dibiasky who discovered the comet that is something that NASA with all its funding should have done since they had all the resources to do so. So it seems that the folks at NASA were sleeping on their jobs in the first place despite the agency receiving billions of dollars in donations which exposes the rot, complacency, and corruption within the agency. Even when Dibiasky and her supervisor Mindy break the news about the comet’s discovery, NASA downplays the discovery for two probable reasons. The first reason is that they could have been wanting to prevent any incidences of alarm and widespread panic in the members of the public which could have been detrimental to the law and order and the economy in general. The second reason is that they could have been wanting to cover up the fact that the discovery was made by someone else especially an individual who was less qualified and less equipped than the agency.
After Dibiasky and her supervisor confirm the discovery of the comet they make the trip to Washington to inform and update the president of the U.S about it but instead the president is not interested in their discovery and he does nothing about it. This shows the level of complacency that the national leadership has about issues facing the planet and the public in general since the president and his administration showed their indifference to the discovery of the comet. Frustrated by the president’s lack of reaction about the comet’s discovery and the fact NASA through its directory Orleans has dismissed the discovery of the comet Dibiasky and Mindy decide to break the news of the discovery to the public and the media through the morning show (Fahy, 2022). However, the media and the public show their lack of interest in the issue of the comet, and instead they choose to focus on other trivial issues such as Mindy’s looks. Here the film demonstrates how the media demonstrates its indifference to issues affecting the planet such as climate change and the subsequent ignorance of such issues by the members of the general public.
It is only later on that the director of NASA admits the news about the discovery of the comet and he does so for selfish reasons which s to distract the attention of the public from his sex scandal which shows the kind of selfishness that is demonstrated by those in power and positions of authority. Orleans had earlier own dismissed news about the discovery of the comet but now when the situation suits him he admits that there is a comet approaching earth so that the member of the public forget his sex scandal. The plan to intercept and break up the comet is formulated but soon it is shelved as the discovery that the comet contains highly valuable earth elements is made. So the attention of the public now shifts towards seeking to commercially exploit the comet for its precious elements while ignoring the dangers posed by the comet striking earth. Here it becomes clear that the commercial interests of a few override any concerns about the safety of the planet and the future of mankind. Selfish greed is again demonstrated when China, Russia, and India are cut off from the deal to commercially exploit the comet which prompts them to take steps to try and intercept the comet and divert it from the earth. In the film, the selfishness and personal interests of a few are further revealed when two thousand people leave the planet in their spaceship in search of an Earth-like planet leaving the rest of humanity to perish.
Several problems emerge in the context of the film and these problems should have been addressed to prevent things from turning out the way they did in the film. The first, problem was the indifference of the head of state and his government to the news of the discovery of the comet. The president and his administration should have given more attention to the news about the comet being discovered and they should have immediately announced plans on how to deal with the threat posed by the approaching comet. Had the government made effort to try and intercept the comet before it continued to approach plane earth the chances of success would have been much better and probably the planet could have been saved from the impending disaster. The second problem that emerges from the film is the lack of professionalism and complacency demonstrated by NASA which is a government agency tasked with conducting space research and providing the government with advice on how to proceed in matters about space such as the issue of the approaching comet. The agency should have been at the forefront in discovering the fast-approaching comet but instead, the agency seemed to have been diverting most of its attention to receiving donations from wealthy well-wishers. Another problem in the film is the lack of honesty by NASA since the agency blatantly lies to the member of the public that there was no approaching comet and it is not until news breaks about its director being involved in a sex scandal that NASA admits to new about the scandal to take the attention of the public from the scandal. The agency should have been honest about the news of the approaching comet from the start and they should have played their part in advising the president on how to deal with the threat. Another problem that emerges from the film is greed by the corporate sector whereby the CEO of a successful tech company discovers that the comet contains in its trillions of dollars of precious earth elements. The potential for commercial benefit from mining the comet takes the center stage which takes attention away from saving the planet. The greed is further exemplified by the fact that countries such as China, India, and Russia are left out of the deal to mine the comet. Instead of being fixated on mining the comet and commercially benefiting from it, the attention of the corporate sector and the head of the different nations of the world should have been on how to save the planet by launching a concerted effort to deflect the planet while there was still tie to do so.
In essence, the movie showcases the various problems that are currently facing the planet. To begin with, the threat of the approaching comet can be likened to the various types of threats facing the planet such as climate change, disease, and even poverty. Like in the film, the attention of the media, the governments, and even the corporate sector are not on the problems facing the planet but rather on how to commercially exploit such threats for personal gain. In the end, the lack of attention to the impending danger posed by the approaching comet leads to the extinction event which is something that could happen if governments, the media, and the corporate sector continue to ignore issues such as climate change (Bieniek-Tobasco et al., 2019). In essence, the film Don’t Look Up does a great in acting as a mirror for society to look at itself through when dealing with important issues that are likely to pose a threat to the future of mankind and the planet. My media strategy aims to draw the attention of the general public to various issues affecting the planet such as climate change, famine, disease, and armed conflict. The strategy aims to accomplish that through the use of a variety of platforms such as social media and electronic media such as television, radio, and the internet to draw attention to such issues.
Bieniek-Tobasco, A., McCormick, S., Rimal, R. N., Harrington, C. B., Shafer, M., & Shaikh, H. (2019). Communicating climate change through documentary film: Imagery, emotion, and efficacy. Climatic Change, 154(1), 1-18.
Fahy, D. (2022). Caricatures and omissions: representations of the news media in ‘Don’t look up. Journal of Science Communication, 21(5), C07.
Little, H. (2022). The use of satire to communicate science in ‘Don’t look up. Journal of Science Communication, 21(5), C06.