The Netflix movie, Do not look up, created waves with his recent appearance on the streaming service. It boasts a high profile, coveted cast with Meryl Streep, Leonardo dicaprio, Timothee Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, and Jonas Hill, as well as Jennifer Lawrence back from a long break. The film is written and directed by Adam McKay, who is currently best with his writings and directors, as well as being a producer on the popular HBO show, Succession. On top of that, the film’s immediate availability on Netflix makes it easy to stream for such a name-dropping cast. Since its release, Do not look up has received very mixed reviews. This is not entirely surprising given the film’s very mixed tones. Yet, no matter how it affected individual viewers, the message of this film is clear. Do not look up makes this happen with some unusual editing and juxtaposition. These details separate the film from being a really scary disaster movie to going on the border between satire and fear.
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
With a message like “the world is going under and the rulers will let it happen,” it is quite surprising that a major critique of Do not look up is that it’s just a long joke. This particular message is pretty true and is hard not to recognize – especially after the last few years we’re all had. This film comes at a crucial time and the delivery of its message is indisputable. But it is in many ways is a long joke. So how does a joke become a fearsome acknowledgment of what we all know and either do or do not admit?
Do not look up have several elements working together to deliver this strong message. Many of these elements are harsh, but something that made its point subtly effective was how the film equated naturalism with unusual, quick editing, and excessive stupidity. There are stretches of the film that feel desperately genuine. It’s not hard to imagine that this scenario really happens, these people really have the power, the warnings are openly ignored, and the result gets just as bad as it does in the final scenes. still, Do not look up is clearly a comedy. The film cuts through the harsh allusions to reality with quick cuts and unusual, comical, fourth wall-breaking clipping. These elements take viewers a bit away from the fact that in some ways they are watching the ultimate horror movie. The world is ruined in a scary way and only rich people resume their lives on an uninhabited (of humans) planet. If the whole movie would have felt real and natural, the comedy would never have appeared through the gloom. It would be like watching Titanic with the knowledge that you are on a similar ship. And that kind of movie would probably not be the easiest thing to sell, nor would it be tasty enough to actually convey its message.
Similarly, the whole film could have been a silly comedy, but the point would never have been as gripping as it was. Do not look up needed both the comedy and the drama to hit the specific tone it hits. It all culminates perfectly in the final scene (pre-credits) when the main characters sit around the dinner table. Excellent writing, instruction, and acting make this scene feel relatable. It’s almost painfully genuine and raw and frankly scary. It’s easy to imagine yourself and your family and friends desperately trying to cope and maintain calm and normalcy as the world literally collapses around you. It gets Dr. Mindy’s (Leonardo DiCaprio) line, “We really had everything, didn’t we?” to hit almost as hard as the comet. The characters have found themselves talking about grinding their own coffee beans and when faced with the idea of losing weight everything, it makes the small, self-evident details of our daily lives feel lush and sumptuous and wonderful.
Still, when it comes time for the comet to hit, the stage is frozen, saving viewers from seeing too much of the sure, gruesome result. For a film that sometimes consists of eye-roll-provocative harshness, it only gives viewers brief outbursts of reality in the midst of the noise. The film does not leave viewers hanging in one place for too long.
Throughout the story, there are apparently out of nowhere, rapid cuts to animals, nature and crying babies, among other signs of life across planet Earth. It reminds viewers that not only will the end of the world destroy Leonardo DiCaprio, movie stars, corrupt politicians, scientists and us, but it will destroy everything. It’s about achieving something that’s quite challenging to achieve in a veritable end of the world movie: it actually makes it hard to know where it’s going. This is reinforced by the unpredictability of the pacing paired with the cuts that give a sense of randomness. When the comet is a few moments from hitting the earth, the narrative quickly flips back and forth between people who react in the many ways people can react in a situation like this (drinking, panicking, throwing caution to the wind) back to the quiet dinner party. It lets moments breathe that one would not expect – like learning about Yules (Timothee Chalamet) religious views and how he got them. And it whizzes through other moments – like Peter Isherwell’s downfall (Mark Rylance) plans to save the world while still extracting the comet. In an unorthodox and unexpected way, the film’s pace allows viewers to spend a little extra time in comforting moments and turn away during the all-too-harsh realities.
When you look Do not look up, it’s hard not to find both a bit of catharsis and a bit of fear. In its folly, the film still accepts an impossibly morbid fate. It delivers this message in an envelope that may seem chaotic and distracting to some. But whether you like the film or not, it manages to get its point across with a unique visceral delivery. It’s a bit like a spoonful of strange editing to make the medicine go down. In his gloom and foolishness and truthfulness, Do not look up feels like the chance to laugh at an inside joke that people who have inhabited planet Earth for the past few years can all share.
Adam McKay’s overt and condescending satire feels like a mediocre ‘SNL’ sketch stretched to 2.5 hours.
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