Dark humor and A-List cast drive “Don’t Look Up”: A sharp satire on climate change ignorance

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"Besides the genius metaphor, what drove this film was the elite cast of superstar actors that filled every role. The small side characters were much more memorable because many were played by A-list celebrities." Arts & Entertainment Editor / Al Harmon.

In a unique film that uses satire to condemn ignorance, Leonardo Dicaprio and Jennifer Lawrence put on an all-time performance in the Oscar-nominated film, “Don’t Look Up.” 

This hilarious, yet dark comedy manages to mock anyone who doesn’t take climate change seriously, without mentioning a word about climate change. Backed by a star-studded cast, the film will open your eyes to how ignorant people can be, and it’s all done using a clever metaphor. 

After the shocking discovery of a large comet headed directly towards Earth, Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) determine that the comet is large enough to cause human extinction. Throughout their journey to warn the public, people in power don’t take them seriously even though the data checks out with scientists around the world, much like what is happening right now in real life with climate change. 

In their first meeting about the comet with the U.S. President, Janie Orlean (brilliantly portrayed by Meryl Streep), hardly anyone in the room seems concerned. With the help of the Head of Planetary Defense Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), the group attempts to persuade the President to take proper defense measures against the comet. 

It quickly becomes clear in the meeting that the President and her associates don’t at all understand (or care about) the potential danger of the comet. Her son Jason, who is the Chief of Staff (Jonah Hill) says, “I’m so bored” when the science of the comet is being explained. The President even mentions using the comet as political leverage amid upcoming midterm elections before ultimately concluding that they need to “sit tight and assess” the matter. Sound familiar?

What makes President Orlean such a brilliant character is the unquestionable similarities to Donald Trump, without the overplayed Trump hair and orange skin joke. Instead, in addition to the typical Meryl Streep boss-lady personality, she also had the cut-throat, narcissistic attitude of Trump. They gave her a questionable sexual history, which is easily comparable to Trump’s numerous sexual assault allegations. Much like Trump, she appointed unqualified people to important positions, including a former anesthesiologist (and Orlean campaign super-donor) to Head of NASA. And obviously, Jason Orlean is supposed to be Donald Trump Jr. who undeservingly served as Chief of Staff during the Trump presidency. 

Besides the genius metaphor, what drove this film was the elite cast of superstar actors that filled every role. The small side characters were much more memorable because many were played by A-list celebrities. For example, superstar recording artists Ariana Grande and Kid Cudi play the over-dramatic celebrity couple, Riley Bina and DJ Chello. Another duo who bring stellar performances is Tyler Perry and Cate Blanchett who play talk show hosts, Jack Bremmer and Brie Evantee. Even the punk teenage kid who develops an unlikely relationship with Kate is played by Timothee Chalamet. It’s easier for these characters to become likable or hateable when they’re such familiar faces and talented actors. 

Despite receiving some critical acclaim, “Don’t Look Up” was not universally loved. Some thought that entertainment and quality were sacrificed for the message that was being relentlessly pushed. I disagree with this because of my previous point, that the cast made up for it. Each role came to life so well that the minor details that made the movie kind of silly didn’t seem too prominent. 

Some characters’ behaviors are far-fetched, but it’s done to make fun of ignorant anti-science conspiracy theorists. In most satires, the characters do exaggerated, ridiculous things to emphasize how extreme people can be. South Park does an impeccable job of this which is why there can be many similarities drawn between the legendary cartoon show and “Don’t Look Up.” 

It’s possible that some people didn’t like the movie because it was making fun of them. Maybe “climate deniers” either did not understand it or possibly felt offended because much like most people in the film, they also don’t take the annihilation of our planet seriously. 

This movie’s impact cannot be understated as it opened a lot of eyes, including mine, to how lightly we take climate change. It further establishes how foolish it is to not listen to proven data and that can be applied to many of the controversial topics of today. 

One of the ongoing jokes throughout the film is how when Dr. Randall Mindy regularly references data, people don’t take it seriously. Before he goes on the talk show to explain the comet, one of his advisors even says to him, “Keep it simple, no math” and Randall replies, “But it’s all math.” 

With the right perspective, “Don’t Look Up” is a groundbreaking film that tells a deep message in a way that seemingly hasn’t been done before. For fans of political satire, it’s a must-watch.

This film also serves as a reminder that climate change is happening now and without action being taken, things are going to continue to worsen. In the words of Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky, “Maybe the destruction of our planet is supposed to be terrifying.” 

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