**Spoiler Alert: This article contains spoilers for Don’t Look Up**
About forty-five minutes into the Netflix film Don’t Look Up, it’s hard not to root for the comet that’s headed towards Earth which will inevitably render all mankind extinct. This comedic dystopian movie is a house of mirrors reflecting all the trivialities our society is concerned with—politics, celebrity relationships, fame, social media, and any other seemingly surface level thing you can think of—while we’re all headed towards utter destruction. And for that reason, I can’t think of a better film to wrap up the year 2021 than Don’t Look Up.
When two astronomers, PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), discover that a comet (“Comet Dibiasky,” named after Kate who made the original discovery) is set on a crash course for Earth, their reaction is one like most anyone faced with the grim reality of imminent death would have. The only problem is that despite the reams of evidence, facts, math, and visual pictures, not many people who are “qualified” to do something about the impending doom have any real concern about it.
The President of the United States, Madam President Orlean (Meryl Streep) and her chief of staff (and son) Jason (Jonah Hill) are only concerned with maintaining power for as long as possible. So alerting the public of the 100% chance that Comet Dibiasky will destroy all of mankind will shift the focus from them to the comet. Inevitably, they ignore the coming danger, at least until a scandal breaks headlines, revealing that the President had an inappropriate relationship with her Supreme Court nominee. Suddenly, the presidential office makes Comet Dibiasky their top priority. Their approval ratings shoot through the roof, providing them an overwhelming victory in the midterm elections.
The presidential administration assembles a team of astronomers (including Dr. Mindy and Kate Dibiasky) to destroy the comet, and all looks hopeful. But just when the path toward salvation is on the horizon, the mission is diverted. But why? Well, it turns out that according to software billionaire tech mogul Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), the comet is full of precious minerals worth trillions of dollars. So rather than destroying the comet, another plan is quickly constructed to blast it into pieces which can fall safely to Earth and be mined for profit.
When Dibiasky and Dr. Mindy have finally had enough and decide to speak out about the absurdity of the plan, they’re silenced by the administration, and the whole debacle turns into a politicized spectacle. But when the actual comet can finally be seen from Earth without the help of a powerful telescope, people take notice and call for immediate action. Dibiasky and Dr. Mindy go viral, sparking a movement to #justlookup. But once again, when this movement gains ground, the presidential administration defies reality and retaliates with its own profit-driven campaign: #dontlookup.
The signs and symbols of the times for our society are littered throughout Don’t Look Up: fans are engrossed with celebrity breakups and makeups (Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi actually have a role in the film depicting this), citizens are ready to take sides on any debate, news outlets follow trends for clicks and views rather than reporting news that informs the public, politicians make decisions based on maintaining power rather than public service, tech moguls virtue signal with clear capitalist intentions of growing their wealth, and movie stars try appealing to “both sides” of a “political” issue when the issues aren’t really political in the governing sense. And as with most Hollywood dystopian movies, America is placed at the forefront of saving the world, excluding everyone else from coordinating an effort to stop this comet the size of Mount Everest from slamming into Earth and destroying all of life.
If Don’t Look Up wasn’t so hilarious, it would probably be highly offensive. The parallels to our governmental responses, inaction, and downplaying of not only the Covid-19 outbreak, but also climate change, economic inequity, and racial injustice, are clear for all who have eyes to see, as clear as the comet on a crash course with Earth in this movie. The Dibiasky Comet represents our own undoing when we fail to work together to eradicate what may inevitably be humanity’s doom. In the words of poet/hip hop artist Propaganda: “We Are All We Got.”
But how can we work together when we can’t even agree on the facts of our problems—when the evidence of what is destroying humanity is obvious but disregarded? When equal opportunity, respect, dignity, and life are exchanged for the comforts of convenience, profit, fame, self-indulgence and power at all costs, it’s fairly easy to predict the trajectory of one’s life—a comparison readily observable by the end of the film when surveying Dr. Mindy’s and President Orlean’s lives. Peter Ishwell’s A.I. technology that can predict everyone’s life and how their lives will end, correctly predicts how President Orlean’s life ends, but is inaccurate at predicting Dr. Mindy’s. President Orlean’s life ends as she uses her status and privilege to escape the fateful end of Earth on another planet in another galaxy (eaten by a dinosaur-like alien organism). Dr. Mindy’s life was predicted to end alone, but instead it ends at a table surrounded by friends and family.
Inevitably, the capitalist plan fails and all is lost to destruction. The miracle of life is taken for granted and our ill-fated planet is destroyed. Like the biblical prophets who spoke truth to those who wielded societal and religious power, the scientific experts were largely ignored as people distracted themselves with foolish, vainglorious pursuits. In this way, the film serves as a warning that you must laugh at to keep from crying.
Interestingly, Don’t Look Up can’t help but turn and acknowledge God in the end. When there’s nothing left to do, no more defenses to put up, and the characters give themselves over to whatever inevitable fate awaits them, the deep-seated sense that there must be something or someone bigger than themselves—bigger than the comet—assumes the subject of conversation around a “last supper” scene. Dr. Mindy’s family and Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) are irreligious and don’t acknowledge any deities, but they feel as though they should acknowledge whatever overwhelming sense of mortality (in the face of immortality) that they have.
Dibiasky’s boyfriend, Yule (Timothèe Chalamet), a punk skateboarder who was raised as an evangelical and inwardly accepts Christianity, but outwardly doesn’t want others to categorize him, leads Dr. Mindy’s family, Dr. Oglethorpe, and Kate in a prayer:
Dearest Father and Almighty Creator, we ask for Your grace tonight, despite our pride; Your forgiveness, despite our doubt. Most of all, oh Lord, we ask for Your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in Your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance. Amen.
Yule’s prayer, however beautifully prosed, comes too late, but it offers peace in the face of despair. All of the intelligence, science, and knowledge humanity has in this fictional world is squandered because of greed, conspiracy theories, self-centeredness, and division. No matter our blindness and ignorance, when the evidence is this glaringly close, humanity can’t help but embrace the fatal comet. We’ve been blessed beyond measure on this Earth, even more so when we remember all we have access to in our western world. But with such blessings come the responsibility to take care of those benefits (Genesis 2:15).
So before we get too riled up about the next controversy, ready to choose sides according to our perception of “right” and “wrong,” maybe we ought to assess all our blessings and choose gratitude first by considering how we can care for what and who we have before it’s gone. Might Dr. Mindy’s final words help us remember this: “We really did have everything, didn’t we?”