Think about any movie genre or trope, if it exists, Netflix has probably produced a movie or show about it. In these last few years we have come to expect a steady stream of new media in the way of practically daily releases of Netflix original content. This has opened up new ways of thinking about how the movie industry works. Hollywood big productions have almost been reduced to an exclusively Marvel affair. This however, has also increased the reach of small productions, which are now released in the same platform as many of the big budget films. The boom of creativity that this has caused has meant that directors have been able to explore filmmaking in a freer way.
Netflix’s thirst for new content is by far diminishing the scrutiny which films used to face by the big production companies. This has led to some big successes, but also some projects that have just missed the mark. It is also interesting to point out that Netflix has always had a problem with releasing movies on par with the big-screen. Most of its successes have come in the form of shows, not movies. It still heavily relies on buying the streaming rights of non-Netflix content to appease the big-budget movie fans.
Don’t Look Up is another attempt at breaking in the Hollywood bubble. With a star-studded cast including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep and Ariana Grande, it seems to confirm once and for all that actors are not afraid to work with Netflix anymore. With such a cast, the movie set big expectations for itself, although recent history (Eternals) has shown that sometimes a star cluster of this caliber cannot help but collapse on its own. So, how has this contemporanean period piece dealt with the expectations, and is there really any depth beyond the satire and humour that dominates the flick by Adam McKay?
The plot reimagines the trope of the extinction of the Earth by asteroid impact by turning it into a political satire. Clearly influenced by many government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic it seems to reflect a deep frustration with the calculating thinking of the elite when it comes to potentially deadly events.
When two scientists discover an asteroid towards Earth they are faced with the fact that The President of the US, played by Meryl Streep and made to be a more extreme version of Donald Trump, cares more about her approval ratings than the extinction event. As the situation develops, the scientists have to face the scrutiny of the public as they try to share their findings with the rest of the population. In the public realm, “the marketplace of ideas”, they are faced with an audience that seems to care more about celebrities than their own extinction. Soon enough, doubt starts being cast on the certainty of these scientific findings and they start to be taken less and less seriously.
This may sound very familiar to anyone who has not been living under a rock for the past 3 years. This movie will feel frustrating sometimes as it clearly takes away from what we have recently learned about world leaders' crisis management. Spoiler alert, it isn’t pretty. It seems that the fatalist ‘vibe’ of Gen Z has rubbed off on McKay as he offers very little hope to cling on to. American patriotism is left behind to the 90s in films such as Armageddon (1998) or Deep Impact (1998). He offers no redemption for the “villains” of the story: The President and a tech mogul who insists on letting the comet impact the Earth so they can mine its minerals and make billions of dollars. In the end, they realise their plans, securing the death of everyone on Earth and they escape in a spaceship which eventually also leads to their death, marking the extinction of the human race.
These representations of political selfishness and corporate greed should remind us of still enforced vaccine patents and of the bidding war between countries that occurred before vaccines were made available. Don’t Look Up, seems to reflect a big loss of faith in the media, government and the general public capacity of reaction to a crisis. Which seems only fair after having seen how incapable we have been to deal with a pandemic.
The message of the film is made clear and it does not shy away from it, to the point where it may be a bit obvious sometimes, this leads to situations that seem to be taken from an SNL sketch. The movie has dark moments and the ending would be especially poignant if it weren’t for the last scene which seems to be taken out of a Rick and Morty episode. This is a common occurrence throughout the film where they seem to sacrifice subtlety for big comedic moments, and although it works well in defusing the weight of the situation it gives the movies a fragmented feel. However, this might not be such a bad thing, these scenes are funny and given the incredibly depressing message underlying the film, they might be needed to avoid an existential crisis after having watched it.
Clearly the mood has changed a lot in the last 3 years and this movie would not make much sense without the context of the pandemic. It relies on the frustration of its audience with public institutions and in dealing with situations outside of their control. The strong acting performances of the cast make the movie a compelling, although bordering on absurdist, timeline of the stages of an extinction event, ending not in salvation like many other movies but in acceptance and resignation.
To wrap up, if you are up for a movie that will not make you feel better but instead will make you laugh frustratedly as you watch, powerless, how the rather incompetent powerful elite seal the fate of humanity, you should definetely give Don’t Look Up a chance.