Warning: Don’t Look Up spoilers ahead.
Don’t Look Up is a thinly-veiled comment on the current political moment, where alternative facts dominate the political discourse. It showcases that the time in which we live is one where truth is evasive and named as partisan. The well-funded, star-studded film couldn’t come at a better time. And in its opening week, 111 million viewers agreed (it’s the second-most popular movie debut on Netflix). The premise of the film revolves around two astronomers, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) and Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) who make media appearances in order to warn the earth of a Mt. Everest-sized comet hurtling toward the planet, ensuring the destruction of the planet. The astronomers are not taken seriously by media professionals or by the President herself. One of them melts down on television and tells the viewers that they will die and the planet will be destroyed. Her warning is gaslit as hysteria, and the show goes on.
The movie tells that even in apparent disasters, such as a visible comet in the sky speeding toward Earth, many will simply not look up. The parallels to disasters like covid-19 and climate change are not subtle, but then again, neither is climate denial or claiming covid-19 is just a cold (it isn’t – even after you are vaccinated). The times we live in are as absurd as ignoring a planet-destroying asteroid. Our elected officials and media do not resolutely take existential warnings very seriously. In fact, they insist on showing up “both sides” of an evident truth. The media’s lack of courage, coupled with nefarious politicians who politicize the facts of the matter, creates a dangerous environment that made leads to an incredibly dangerous environment.
It is made even worse when monied interests and self-centered motives compromise our integrity. The Trump-inspired President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) initially dismisses the notion, her untrained NASA director agrees with her. But when Orlean is caught in a scandal, she uses the comet to divert attention away from her campaign. She launches a mission to destroy the comet, but the situation changes with the CEO of a tech company called BASH realizes that the comet has valuable minerals that could make him richer. He has an alternative way to save the planet and preserve the comets. When China, India, and Russia are cut out of BASH’s plan, they launch their own mission and it fails.
So BASH’s untested plan is all that is left. Needless to say, their plan fails and the earth is doomed. In the meantime, Mindy and his wife (whom he cheated on) reconnect, and with Dibiasky, her newfound post-Evangelical boyfriend (Timothée Chalamet), as well as other friends, enjoy a final meal before the earth is destroyed.
The film shows us, again, that despite a common problem, one that could unite the world, partisanship gets in the way, and people deny the very problem or feel as it is overblown. This heavy-handed analogy needs to be so heavy-handed because subtlety certainly isn’t working in our political economy. In fact, as I was viewing it, I wondered how it could be believable that so many people could disagree with a manifest problem such as a comet. How could politicians and the media be so ignorant? Then I realized we were living in that very fiction ourselves.
I will admit, despite the film’s one-to-one portrayal of our world, one unique aspect stood out to me. Diabiasky’s boyfriend, who described himself as growing up Evangelical, maintains some of his faith and the movie doesn’t mock him for that. In fact, for as heavy-handed as it is, the movie doesn’t really incorporate Evangelical hypocrisy on things like climate change and covid-19 with misinformation about the impending comet. In fact, Yule’s faith is extolled at the end of the movie when he provides some comfort to the dining family with an authentic and heart-filled prayer before the comet destroys the planet.
Faith and prayer are shown as balms in our trials and tribulations, and that is welcome by me. It was beautiful to witness that faith was used as a comfort, instead of a miracle worker. The comet still comes and collides with the earth. Life vanishes. Salvation may prevail, but prayer, alone, doesn’t save the earth. And the film doesn’t fault prayer for that. In fact, after his prayer, Mindy speaks a statement of contentment and conviction: “We really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, when you think about it.”
Yule’s prayer is an encouragement to those who hold faith that our blessing can offer both comfort and courage. The prayer convicts Mindy that indeed God provided them with everything, and they wanted even more and destroyed themselves. Prayer has the power to convict us, to move us, to motivate us. It allows us to confront the evil in this world and face the reality of it. Whether it’s the pandemic, climate change, an impending comet, or things like white supremacy, homophobia, and racism. When we deny these things, we are demonstrating a lack of faith. But let’s ask God to keep giving us the faith we need to address them in ourselves, our organizations, and our churches.