‘Don’t Look Up’: A disturbingly accurate parody of US society

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(Graphic Illustration by Dylan Tusinski | The Collegian)

Chase Hontz, Arts and Culture Reporter

Over the course of his career, director Adam McKay has proven that he is not one to shy away from bold social or political commentary.

While many know him best for his mindless and hysterical classic comedies such as “Step Brothers,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy” and “The Other Guys,” in recent years, McKay has directed a string of films that are less focused on laugh-out-loud comedic plots and molded far more in the vein of social, historical and political satires. 

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As for the director’s latest film, 2021’s “Don’t Look Up,” McKay combines key elements from the laugh-out-loud comedies released earlier in his career and his more recent string of comedic satires. Centered on a fictitious plot, McKay draws from recent trends, events and regressions that our society has endured over the past decade. In addition to these elements, the impending crisis at the heart of the film’s plot is meant to directly parallel the ongoing climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Diving further into the plot of “Don’t Look Up,” the story focuses on a pair of astronomers who frantically attempt to alert the general public about a planet-destroying comet hurtling toward Earth. The duo consists of Ph.D. candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and her professor, Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio).

Along the way, the pair encounters a presidential administration that appears entirely inept and dismissive of the situation. This much is demonstrated through a scene early in the film in which the president immediately decides to “sit tight and assess” upon learning of the comet’s imminent impact.

As the film progresses and the president is eventually forced to take action toward the incoming comet, her administration turns to Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), a tech mogul with only his own self-interest in mind. Isherwell persuades the president to embrace his own dangerous plan, which prioritizes profiting off the comet rather than destroying it.

Following the president’s decision, Dibiasky and Mindy spend the remainder of the film leading the scientific community in a public movement to raise awareness and concern for the severity of the incoming comet.

Simultaneously, the president and her administration spend the remainder of the film leading a combatting movement of misinformation regarding the comet.

Showing the general public’s disinterest in the matter, a montage depicts a number of young adults who are too focused on keeping up with social media presences to process the news of the incoming comet.

Those who do hold interest in the comet are displayed in hilarious fashion during a scene in which crowds attend a “Don’t Look Up” rally led by the president outside the White House, thus suggesting the comet isn’t even real.

The film concludes on an incredibly bleak note. Having ignored the scientific community, the president’s ill-motivated efforts fail. Dibiasky and Mindy are proven correct as the comet hits Earth and wipes out all life on the planet.

While “Don’t Look Up” isn’t a perfect film by any stretch of the imagination, it is an effective and fun effort at capturing and duplicating the absurdity of modern American society and politics through fiction.

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As for the film’s shortcomings, the pacing of the plot feels rushed at various points. Furthermore, the underutilization of the film’s remarkably talented cast leaves much to be desired. The talents of actors such as Timothée Chalamet and Ron Perlman are squandered to that of side characters who are briefly present and included solely for comedic relief.

However, what this film lacks in the aforementioned elements, it makes up for with its uniquely spot-on caricatures and grounded ending.

McKay uses his main cast of characters to deliver obvious digs at prominent figures and trends of the past decade. In doing so, “Don’t Look Up” gives the audience a unique feeling of familiarity as they watch a slightly exaggerated recap of the past decade in the American news cycle.

President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) and Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill) are meant to parallel former U.S. President Donald Trump and his children through their obnoxiously slogan-labeled baseball caps and rallies, their dismissal of both the COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis, their blatant nepotism and their countless outrageous scandals.

There’s something entertaining about watching these beloved actors do their best imitation of prominent figures who have dominated the news cycle in recent years. The same could be said for the character of Isherwell and his relentless greed and prioritization of self-profit over impending crises being a direct caricature of real-world tech moguls such as Mark Zuckerberg, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

The conclusion to this film undoubtedly serves as one of its strongest points. Separating itself from other comedic parodies intended to deliver a message on a pressing real-world issue, McKay pulls no punches in conveying his final message through the film’s final act: Climate change is the greatest challenge of our time, and if it continues to be ignored by world leaders and the general public, humanity will find itself doomed to a similarly catastrophic fate.

“Don’t Look Up” provides an equally amusing and horrifying look into the current trajectory of American society. Its fantastic ensemble, clever use of satire and strong underlying message make this film a must-see for anyone with both a sense of humor and a concern for our planet’s future.

Reach Chase Hontz at entertainment@collegian.com or on Twitter @HontzCollegian.