If Don’t Look Up is about anything, and I’m already being charitable, it is how we as a society are blind to the issues around us and are complicit in their progression. It is therefore ridiculous that this film doesn’t actually deal with an actual issue, instead it just conjures up straw man caricature after straw man caricature and lands contrived, easy hit after easy hit. Yes, in it’s made up world, so divorced from reality, it seems to be onto something; however, as a piece of satire, it is nothing filmmaking (and therefore in line with Adam McKay’s recent output).
In this film, a huge comet is found and it’s going to hit Earth. It will destroy the planet when it hits but, don’t worry, it is avoidable. The opening act is a ridiculous farce in which the film proves its internal point that people don’t want to hear about this and therefore will ignore it. It’s a loaded point and it is poorly articulated. The positioning of the film here, and throughout, being deeply suspect. The consistent attitude is a ‘we know better’ one, in which scientists are wielded like apolitical arbiters that exist above the strife of normal people. A more nuanced film would deal with the issues that have led to a loss of faith in governments, wider institutions and towards widespread corruption. The film approaches this later, but tertiarily and in the stupidest way. It pushes its criticism onto single actors or forces: the President and a caricature of a tech executive (Mark Rylance in a phenomenally bad performance). The ultimate take away is that people need to stop squabbling and start listening, but the film is only dealing with a hypothetical and only has its own logic to go on. It creates a world that is utterly farcical, one based purely on exaggeration, and then has the gal to say ‘look how farcical this all is’.
It is a film of recursive irritations. It falls flat because of how blunt it is, how poorly realised it is. Everything is either too self serious to be funny or too unrealistic to be smart. There is no cutting critique, no sense of being in challenging or controversial territory. It is the safest, dullest and must blandly directed film in which the end of the world becomes a non event. Our characters are nothings, their existence doesn’t matter, and the fate of this cartoon world will offer no interest to the viewer. And this is incredibly frustrating because it is such a colossal waste of time. Instead of making a prescient film that opens up questions or picks at things, we have a self satisfied ‘I told you so’ critique. The destination is assured from the start, you know exactly the point the film is making and nothing is gained from watching past the first 20 minutes or so. What follows is a pointless expansion on obvious themes as it wins at a game of bingo that it is in full control of.
The even more irritating part is the hypocrisy. At one point, the film shouts at how the ultra rich are using a point of crisis just get richer, at the expense of everything else and for no reason at all (because what does wealth matter when the world is ending). But this is a huge budget ensemble comedy studied with the ultra rich, all turning up to say nothing in a nothing film (it’s worth noting that it’s a Leonardo DiCaprio starring vehicle, the same DiCaprio that flew to Glasgow during a pandemic because he felt he needed to be at COP26, and the same one we are supposed to celebrate because he used a commercial flight. It is this kind of centering, of a group of people thinking they are vital to every conversation and know better than everybody else, that is at the heart of this ‘film’). It is a rogues gallery of wasted talent who could uniformly be in something that actually meant something. Because there’s nothing here. It elicits no conversation; it has no insight; it has no merit. As a piece of filmmaking it is beyond bland and there’s no wit to any of it. Nothing is sharp, nothing is pointed. Nothing is anything.
The only thing Don’t Look Up is is filmic hypocrisy. It is a big, distracting, bloated epic that has nothing to say and spends so much time doing speaking. Oh yes, it loudly criticises emptiness and vapidity, it is so vocally against in-action and distraction; yet, the film is these things incarnate. It is staggering how un self-aware it is and how little it has to offer. The mock ironic title becomes an apt descriptor for the movie: an ignorant work that spreads the actual thing it aims to critique. Maybe if it understood something, maybe if it at all dealt with causal factors or wider pictures, maybe if this surface level Trumpian satire didn’t feel oh-so out of date already, there would be something. But there’s not. We know that people are apathetic; we know they are disenfranchised (and the complex reasons behind this are not even approached by this film). This film only gives us what we already know (in a simplified and useless way) and then offers nothing to do with this as it walks away patting itself on the back. I guess the only reason it’s not looking up is because it’s only ever looking down on the audience.