Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Fatal Flaw Of ‘Don’t Look Up’

“Don’t Look Up” is confusing the battle lines of our culture war. It’s been panned by some critics and praised by others — unusual for a piece of progressive propaganda. (Normally those just get praised.) It depicts faith and family as the ultimate refuge in moments of existential dread. It’s proven popular despite boasting explicit ideological ambitions.

Let’s take the last point first. Adam McKay’s political work is sneering and heavy-handed, an unwitting parody of insular elites. But if you don’t read movie reviews or follow the film’s stars on social media, “Don’t Look Up” could easily hit you as a commentary on COVID or any dire geopolitical challenge — at least until the end of the film, at which point writers David Sirota (whom I admire very much) and McKay mostly discard with their surprisingly subtle pretense, that an apocalyptic comet is a stand-in for the apocalypse of climate change.

I think that might explain the film’s popularity, which is holding steady according to Netflix’s self-reported figures. With the country mired in existential dread, “Don’t Look Up” is generic enough to make for easy projection. Choose your own apocalypse and the film seems like a commentary on it. (Mine is TikTok.) At his worst moments, Leonardo DiCaprio’s character is eerily reminiscent of Anthony Fauci. “The Daily Rip” satirizes “Morning Joe.” President Orlean and Peter Isherwell are self-interested corporatists without a clear partisan bent. The whole plot is basically a thought experiment on human behavior in the face of certain catastrophe, and it gets a lot of things right.