Don’t Look Up

It’s the number one film on NETFLIX at the moment, so I’m sure you’ve either already seen this movie or have heard plenty about it. That said, for posterity I’m adding it to the ongoing list of films I recommend here on this site, and I’ll explain why after the trailer.

Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

Reaction to DON’T LOOK UP has been polarising, to say the least. Glancing at IMDB just now, the Metascore is 50. On Rotten Tomatoes it currently stands at 55%. I don’t think the stats are at all surprising – if anything they’re quite appropriate – because the polarisation of society is at the core of the film. As an apocalyptic story, it’s by-the-numbers. As a comedy, it’s intermittently very funny. I can understand why people expecting either a laugh-fest or a GREENLAND or ARMAGEDDON style action adventure would be disappointed. Much has been made of the fact that the destruction of the planet by a comet is an allegory for climate change, but you can substitute any number of current social issues. I think the film’s scope is far broader than any one scenario. It holds up a mirror (albeit a deliberately distorted and exaggerated one) to some of our worst traits as individuals and as a society.

Throughout the story, the characters are fixated on things that don’t matter at the expense of things that do: the President of the United States wants to sit on news of the impending apocalypse so as not to tarnish her approval ratings, a tech guru concocts a plan to mine the planet-killing comet to tap into the trillions of dollars worth of minerals it contains… even the scientists become distracted with the irrelevances of fame. There are many levels to this film, but what hit me hardest was the demonisation of critical thinking and the absolute intolerance of other perspectives. In some respects, it felt like a comedy version of HATER.

It saddens me that in the sixteen years since I wrote HATER, it feels like it’s become more and more relevant with each passing week. I never explain the reason for the Hate in the books, but I’d always had it in mind that it was some kind of biological quirk that separated them from us, a genetic or other physical difference. Turns out it was worse than that. Turns out we’re capable of killing each other on the basis of our ideologies, beliefs, opinions, and personal desires. That’s always been the case, of course, and I’m being deliberately simplistic here, but it truly does feel like we’ve reached the point in our evolution (devolution?) where many of us appear incapable of even listening to, let alone considering or accepting, another person’s point of view when it doesn’t fit with our own world view or if it will be detrimental to ourselves in any way, shape, or form. There is no maybe anymore, there’s just right and wrong, and if one person’s right is another person’s wrong (which it inevitably will be), then we hit an impasse.

It’s fucking terrifying when you think about it, and pretty depressing, but that’s why I’m recommending DON’T LOOK UP. The characters are caricatures and it doesn’t offer any solutions or profound explanations, but it does a great job of showing how heartbreakingly stupid and blinkered us human beings can be. I’d like to think we’ll smarten up before the planet is destroyed (either by a comet, climate change, a rogue AI, aliens, or – most likely – ourselves), but like the scientists in the story, I’m not holding out a lot of hope.