How “Don’t Look Up” Perpetuates Climate Doomism

Will Donahue ‘24

Opinions Editor

If you religiously browse the Oscar nominations every year (like I do) despite claiming not to care about award shows (like I also do), then you may have noticed that Adam McKay’s “Don’t Look Up” was nominated for this year’s Best Picture award. This film has spawned a seemingly infinite amount of online discourse over the past month and a half, so I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect going in – a story with scientists, a giant comet, and not-so-subtle social commentary.

After finally viewing “Don’t Look Up,” I can say that my expectations were not far off the mark. The film tells the story of two astronomers, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his associate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), as they try to convince an ignorant world of their imminent death-by-giant-comet. The acting performances were fantastic all around, which comes as no surprise considering how the cast is absolutely stacked with talent. I thought the humor was solid, especially the running gags. And although I felt the film ran about thirty minutes too long, I came away from my viewing experience feeling reasonably satisfied.

But any discussion about “Don’t Look Up” would be incomplete without mentioning the film’s social commentary – because there is a lot of social commentary. From the image-obsessed media stars to the Trump-ian misinformation campaign, every inch of this film is loaded with parallels to our modern society. By the end of the first act, the film’s message is already painfully clear – this fictional giant comet is supposed to represent our current climate crisis.

But to me, this is where “Don’t Look Up” falters – the film appears to misunderstand the nature of the crisis it is satirizing. Climate change is not like a giant comet, or any other wild instant-death scenario. We aren’t going to wake up one day and realize the polar ice caps melted overnight. The whole process is quite literally a slow burn –  temperatures are steadily rising, and they have been for decades now. It’s not an impending apocalypse – it’s our current reality.

Most of my problems with the film’s commentary stem from this misunderstanding. The two main characters are mostly concerned with telling the world that death is inevitable because the people in power refuse to do anything. But because the comet is framed as a singular unavoidable event instead of a gradual process, their fear mongering is completely warranted. In the film’s scenario, there is really not much that can be done about the crisis, which is a bit frustrating when you consider how the comet is meant to mirror climate change, a real-world crisis where preventative action is still very possible.

I am not saying “Don’t Look Up” should have been a one-to-one metaphor for our current crisis, nor am I saying it should have offered up a solution. But the rhetoric in this film is eerily similar to the climate doomism I have seen plastered all over the internet for the past few years – the idea that the end of the world will soon be upon us, we’re all going to die, and it’s too late for any meaningful changes. This mindset, while admittedly less ignorant than straight-up climate denialism, is still misguided. Yes, the situation is dire – but telling everyone that climate change will inevitably kill us all is about as productive as denying its existence.

Photo courtesy of IMDB

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