Just over a month ago, Netflix released the disaster comedy Don’t Look Up and quickly received the controversy and debate that I’m sure it was hoping for. Now that the dust has somewhat settled, is there anything to glean from the aftermath? Will Adam McKay’s latest satire have any meaningful legacy?
Summarised nicely in a Forbes article, the film satirises “the dismal failure of politicians to take [climate change] seriously […] the self-destructive urges of greedy billionaires and delusional silicon valley dwellers, the scientists co-opted by corporate interests, along with the misinformation and conspiracy theories sparked by an event too terrible to acknowledge”.
It’s low-hanging fruit to be sure, but every maddening reference to reality lands. However, as spot on as the film’s message seems, I can’t help but feel like it is going to be largely forgotten within a few months. I’ve been trying to put my finger on exactly what made me unsatisfied with this film and everything around it.
It could have something to do with the overt hypocrisy. Barely two weeks after release, Leonardo DiCaprio was spotted holidaying on a superyacht, a vehicle that apparently emits “as much carbon as an average car’s in a year” in one journey, particularly baffling given that he is one of the most vocal celebrities on the matter of climate change. To cut Leo some slack, however, the film industry as a whole isn’t doing too well either. According to some studies, it vastly underreports its climate impact, which is suggested to be pretty significant (see also this article about the Golden Globes and greenwashing). What’s more, it’s a little ironic that the super-rich – some of the very people onscreen – are responsible for a huge percentage of pollution compared to the poorest 50% globally. But hey, nobody’s perfect, right?
Then there’s the reactions to the film. I mentioned controversy earlier on, referring to the debate between critics and environmental lobbyists. Critics argue that it’s still alright to hate the film for its poor cinematography, lacking script and unimaginative plot. The rest are pointing out that this is the exact kind of trivial content meant to distract us from the very scary point. But my thoughts following these articles are always – so what now? We’ve established that the predicament is extremely urgent… what now?
Of course it’s absurd to imagine that a film could change the tides of the climate change movement. I just wonder whether unpleasant reminders of our own powerlessness at the hands of greedy capitalists is the most productive way to promote it, as opposed to – say – the actors and wealthy names in the credits making noise in their elite circles or putting their money where their mouth is.
Perhaps what I’m trying to suggest is that the film feels kind of performative. Or perhaps triggering climate anxiety really will be the way to organise the masses. Don’t get me wrong – I enjoyed Don’t Look Up and honestly I really hope it starts something significant for the climate fight going forward; it’s just not enough. Which leads me back to that ever-looming question: what now?