It was the zeitgeist.
In 1998, over the last nice disaster-film craze, two blockbusters about extraterrestrial objects placing Earth and triggering extinction, Armageddon and Deep Impact, had been launched inside just a few months of one another. Stylistically completely different, the 2 movies shared a standard theme: For all our faults, humanity will all the time struggle for its survival. And, although many will perish, we’ll in the end prevail due to our braveness.
Don’t Look Up, launched in 2021 and distributed through Netflix, is the primary big-money movie since then that explores the subject of extinction-level impression, and it takes the polar reverse tack: Even within the face of assured demise, humanity will discover a motive to destroy itself. It’s a bleak, cynical message, however audiences should surprise: Is this who we’re? Besides being tremendously entertaining, the themes in Don’t Look Up might very properly signify the zeitgeist of at present.
More Deep Impact than Armageddon, Hollywood’s return to the planet-killing-object style focuses much less on the act of averting catastrophe and extra on human drama. A scientist and a Ph.D. scholar, portrayed respectively by the impossible-to-typecast Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, uncover a comet sufficiently big to destroy all life on Earth with an impression date simply over six months away. What follows is a half-year of futile makes an attempt to mobilize state and society to get up and struggle for survival, solely to find the demoralizing fact: People simply don’t care all that a lot.
A satirical however considerate movie, the query of “What if the world ended in an election year?” is answered in absurdly comedic style. Yet, there’s a tinge of realism to all of it. As Eric Weinstein famous, all the things, together with the financial system and politics, has turn into “kayfabe,” pro-wrestling lingo for portraying faux issues as actual. Private or public, all the things has turn into about sustaining deception, since dwelling by fact is way too burdensome and doubtlessly destabilizing. In the film, nobody—neither the White House, the media, nor the general public—is keen to be inconvenienced by the worst information possible. Elections, good occasions, and income are at stake, and we’re simply too excessive on our personal provide to comprehend none of it issues if we’re as a result of be worn out in six months. The adage about good occasions creating weak point rings true right here.
Rife with severe political overtones, Don’t Look Up did a fabulous job strolling a fragile tightrope. By scrambling the political alignment of the world offered within the movie, it wasn’t all the time straightforward to attract real-world inferences. President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) seems to be a Democrat of the Clinton selection, with a celeb’s aptitude that would come from any aspect of the aisle. Later within the movie, she seems to have established a broad base of help that has apparently achieved the not possible: deliver collectively the multicultural left with what appears to be like just like the MAGA proper.
As for the principle characters, their politics are a thriller within the story, and that’s simply advantageous. Not solely does it make them simpler to narrate to, however it’s simply not that vital. At its core, it’s not a political story, however one about individuals making an attempt to save lots of everybody else—who apparently don’t wish to be saved. Nobody escapes unscathed; caricatures of each the left and the precise, together with the mainstream and opposition media, are flayed, and so are the extremely educated bureaucrats, specialists, and others who maintain the levers of energy in society.
One fascinating character is a caricature of a Big Tech enterprise magnate—a mix of the worst of Jeff Bezos, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk—who emerges as one thing of a villain within the story. By distinction, an Evangelical Christian, a go-to movie-industry villain, is positioned within the protagonist bloc. Surprising as it’s to listen to from Hollywood, particularly after two years of Covid-mania, the takeaway appears to be to not belief these in cost, who don’t have your greatest pursuits at coronary heart, and who’ll allow you to down when it counts probably the most.
Where have we heard that message earlier than?
Hollywood, of course, is a leftist enterprise, and what you see constitutes their worldview. Cosmopolitan and urbane, rooted in values so broad and open-ended as to imply nothing particular, it seeps via in Don’t Look Up, contrasting with the extra patriotic, Heartland-style vibe of Armageddon and the Middle American taste of Deep Impact. However, whereas there may be hardly something “conservative” about Don’t Look Up, it has one thing to say the precise in all probability ought to agree with: America has turn into a really decadent society, to the purpose that it has neither the inclination nor the need to struggle for something, together with mankind’s survival.
Even because the world begins to take extra significantly the prospect of annihilation, each well-meaning try to arrange humanity for its demise turns into a completely unserious stream of hashtags, sloganeering, and self-indulgence, primarily via social media. What audiences see is a society that merely can not take something significantly and can meet its demise not via self-destruction, however as a result of it might’t be bothered to just accept the reality in entrance of its face till it’s too late. There’s poetic justice to this, nevertheless: Many of us are derided as doomsayers for merely declaring that dangerous issues can occur to us, and the film exhibits there’s no honor in complacency and normalcy bias.
At 138 minutes, Don’t Look Up is prolonged for light-hearted fare, however it passes shortly. Even if it’s too lengthy for some, the ending is definitely worth the wait. Hopefully readers will take the time to observe it all through to soak up the complete emotional impression of the closing scene. Deeply shifting and tragic, the second reveals one thing that, for all our obvious progress, has confirmed true all through the ages: Even probably the most damaging forces within the universe can not crush religion or household. Our existence alone could lack that means, however it turns into significant after we imagine in one thing larger than ourselves and after we dwell for the sake of others. The issues we glance as much as and people whom love are our refuge within the face of terror and the unknown.
With it comes a plea: regardless of our beliefs and convictions, might all of us at the very least agree that being right here is a blessing? The final line of dialogue earlier than the credit roll is pregnant with that means: We actually did have all the things, didn’t we? It’s solely when it’s about to be taken away from us can we understand what a beautiful reward we had been bestowed by our Creator and our ancestors, earlier than we squandered it. The lesson isn’t that we must be ashamed of ourselves, however that we must always understand, each day, how lucky we’re as a species and that the tip comes for us all—and perhaps ahead of we expect. Our survival is rarely assured, even after we struggle for it, however we’ll by no means survive except we’re keen to struggle for it.
It might not be sufficient to bridge divides. But unity usually emerges from the collective realization that that this right here, and one another, is all we’ve received.
Edward Chang is a protection, army, and international coverage author. Follow him on Twitter at @Edward_Chang_8.