Don’t Look Up

I said last week that I thought my next film might be The Aviator (2004); what with one thing and another, I did end up watching a film where Leonardo DiCaprio and Cate Blanchett are romantically entangled, but it wasn’t The Aviator.

Don’t Look Up is an entirely conscious and overt satire on humanity’s, and especially America’s, failure to deal with climate change (and perhaps COVID to an extent). There is a good piece here by Eric Lewitz detailing how the film gets it wrong, and perhaps hits the wrong targets, and another (if you can get through the New York Times paywall) by Ross Douthat explaining how he would have written it better. Those critiques are fair on the detail, but the details that are important here aren’t those of the impending catastrophe itself; the crucial question asked is whether we would be able to respond to a measurable, imminent, world-ending threat, and the answer in the movie is no. It’s in the tradition of many end-of-the-world satires and warnings, thinking of On the Beach and The Fire Raisers, in particular.

The details that do matter are the performances and staging. It’s over the top, and goes on a bit too long, but wow, Meryl Streep is pretty impressive at 72 as the genderflipped President Trump, and I warmed much more to DiCaprio here than I did in Titanic. It’s good to see Jennifer Lawrence and Cate Blanchett doing something a bit different. Mark Rylance is suitably sinister and crazy. Oh, and there’s Timothée Chalamet, escaped from Dune.

Getting the details right is not the issue. The problem is the big picture. Natural (and man-made) catastrophes are with us always, as this dramatic footage of last night’s volcanic eruption in the Pacific reminds us.

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