The new “Don’t Look Up” movie, about a collision between a planet-killing comet and a frivolous America, is something of a critical failure — the score on RottenTomatoes.com is currently only 55 percent fresh — but an obvious cultural success. In a world where it’s hard for non-superhero movies to barely cause a ripple, it’s broken a Netflix viewing record and launched an array of film critics’ arguments and pundits — some politically unpredictable, including both left-wing critique and right-wing admiration.
Officially, the film is an allegory about climate change, a conceit that the director, Adam McKay, has emphasized in sparring online with his critics. “If you’re not at least a little scared about the climate collapse (or the US tottering),,” McKay recently tweeted, “I’m not sure ‘Don’t Look Up’ makes sense. It’s like a robot watching a love story. ‘WHY ARE THEIR FACES SO CLOSE TOGETHER?’”
However, art has a way of escaping the intentions of its creators. Despite McKay’s tweets, his comet screenplay is a crappy allegory for the climate challenge, for reasons painstakingly elaborated by Eric Levitz of New York Magazine in one of the best reactions to the film as a potential policy intervention. But the pandemic that arrived before production started turned out to be a better fit for the allegory: a fast-moving and unexpected threat rather than a lengthy challenge. And in the end, “Don’t Look Up” is most effective if it’s just a movie about that parenthesis in McKay’s tweet – the idea of a “trembling” America, with the specific existential threat almost inseparable from the portrait of system failure. .
This is the biggest reason, I suspect, that the film is a commercial success and a talking point, even for those who hate it: because it opens one of the widest lenses to American decadence since the “The Wire” years. and “The Sopranos” were both on HBO.
Even so, I’m still one of the critics who thought the film ultimately failed, as its impulse to denounce everyone from TV news to social media is at odds with his desire to send a pious message about Listening to bring science. The final impulse ensures that his satire is at its softest when it takes on the expert class, the academic-industrial complex. And the plot ultimately revolves around a single horrific decision by a populist president, the systemic critique sacrificed for ideological scoring.
But since the movie is almost the comprehensive portrait of decadence we need, I’m going to offer up some script doctoring, and give you the version of “Don’t Look Up” that could have been if someone hired me to consult. Here goes:
Act 1: The comet is discovered by amateur astronomy geeks who comb telescope images the government collects, but don’t bother to investigate. Their findings are being hyped by a mix of doomsday preppers and tech bros, while academic authorities dismiss the claims as misinformation and Twitter censors users who insist the comet will hit Earth.
Act 2: A group of Harvard astronomers confirm the comet’s horrific trajectory, and suddenly the media is spinning on a dime and starting to hype the threat. But the president, a right-wing populist seeking re-election, prefers to delay handling it, so she hypes an obscure Bible college astronomer who thinks the chance of impact is less than 10 percent.
Act 3: After protests rage across the country, the president reverses course and announces a massive nuclear attack. However, the head of NASA, a darling of the media, insists that blowing up the comet will rain fragments and kill too many people and that you need a more limited attack – the subject of his own dissertation, namely – that takes it off course. Fox News slanders him, but the mainstream media insists his strategy is just science and no serious person can resist. So the United States tries his plan – and it completely fails, because his dissertation was actually based on fraudulent experiments that were never repeated outside his lab.
Act 4: Now the president orders the full blow-up attack, but it also fails – because most nuclear weapons don’t work, because the military hasn’t inspected its arsenal because that part of the budget was spent hiring TikTok influencers to build a new one. recruiting pitch for Gen Z. In desperation, the government turns to an Elon Musk-style tech wizard, whose Great Bore drill promises to deliver a nuclear warhead into the comet’s heart. Unfortunately, he’s supervising the mission himself, and it ends in disaster when he’s distracted by a Twitter flamewar.
Act 5: With no options, part of America pretends the comet isn’t coming, while another part joins a cult that holds mass conversion ceremonies for the sins of the white patriarchy. At the last minute, a collection of Chinese drones takes off to meet and shatter the comet, with its pieces falling into the Pacific Ocean to be mined by Chinese deep-sea robots – but a rainstorm “accidentally” hits the continental United States , leaving our infrastructure and the world’s former superpower in limbo.
Roll credits, in Chinese. I’ll see you all at the Oscars.