Netflix’s “Don’t Look Up”: A Comet That Completely Misses The Mark


Netflix’s climate change allegory “Don’t Look Up” may have a star-studded cast (pictured, left to right: Cate Blanchett, Tyler Perry, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence), but it misses the true intricacies of the climate crisis.

Writer and director Adam McKay’s star-studded “Don’t Look Up” is a giant metaphor for the climate crisis. The movie follows two troubled scientists who, after discovering a planet-killing comet hurtling toward Earth, desperately try to save civilization by battling denial, politicians who fail to act, an avaricious tech giant who wants to mine the comet for minerals and the superficial, whimsical media.

So, McKay wanted to make a movie highlighting the world’s lack of action in confronting global warming. He features Leonardo DiCaprio, who has made a whole new name for himself in publicly speaking about climate change, and brings in countless other big names like Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, Timothée Chalamet and Ariana Grande. 

What’s more, “Don’t Look Up” set a record for the most viewing hours in a week on Netflix, and within 28 days of its release, it became the second most-watched film on Netflix. So far so good, right?

As is common on social media, a heated debate began following the release of the movie. Among a range of beliefs, one opinion in particular kept reappearing as more of the world watched on: The movie completely misrepresents the ongoing effort to combat climate change.

Now, as you will probably sense from my lack of creative writing skills, I’m a news writer, so I won’t even attempt to criticize any artistic or film critic-y things. But as I watched this movie, I was astounded by the film’s attempt at political commentary. 

The satirical film gets a few things right — Silicon Valley’s power and greed could not be more representative of reality — but I think the ‘aspects’ of confronting climate change it chooses to focus on take away from the actual challenges the world currently faces. 

The central theme of “Don’t Look Up,” and the entire basis for the plot, is sheer denialism from scientific discovery. This is where the film first missteps and fails to catch its footing. The overwhelming majority of our world’s governments — and their citizens — know and understand the realities of climate change, so why base the film on it? If anything, this sort of denialism reminds me more of COVID-19 than our warming Earth. 

As is repeated throughout the movie, the scientists are invited on a talk show — the film’s sole representation of the media. They’re met by seemingly brain-dead hosts who are only focused on the drama you might find in People Magazine because, in their own words, they “like to keep the bad news light.”

I have multiple issues with how the film chooses to represent the media amid its denial crisis, but the portrayal that the media skirts around or blatantly ignores the bad news could not be further from reality. In fact, bad news is usually good for the media. 

I am in no way praising the American media, who deserve criticism for their systemic and institutional flaws. But this misrepresentation of how the news is told in the movie’s society exposes the flaws of the metaphor. 

Climate change is a gradual process. Depending on our interventions, its course could even shift. But, in contrast to what’s seen in “Don’t Look Up,” there is no singular villain to the climate crisis or one singular solution. Climate change is certainly not analogous to the singular threat posed by a comet on a clear trajectory of obliteration toward Earth. 

At the current stage in the climate crisis, we’re more so faced with a lack of action, rather than exception, of the issue at hand. “Don’t Look Up” manages to make a few decent points about the culpability of climate deniers, egocentric politicians and capitalistic corporations, but then again, what movie would have the competence to confront the shibboleths that continue to squash climate action?