Movies

Political Satire of the Year? Don’t Look Up Spoiler-Free Review

I feel like I’ve been watching a reality show for the past 6 years. Life is dramatic and outlandish. The news feels like something from a sci-fi movie or from a teen dystopia. Reality TV is unrealistic; it asks why any rational person would act or believe the things they do. I question the notion that people really want to know the truth when I see how certain reality tv actors are; they believe their story is correct, no matter how many times the rest of the cast proves that they are wrong. What people really want is a truth that benefits their self-interest. The answer to that question is that people are inherently irrational. Our irrationality has been with us long before the pandemic and long before the movies.  

I’ve heard quite often that 2021 wasn’t the best year, though I wonder, when did we have a good year? Our world has always had irrational people and people have been satirizing life forever. The drama of the satire is pointing out the vices and flaws of society and the best satire, in my opinion, points out flaws that we can find not just in the higher-ups, but in ourselves. The best satire can call out the people who need to be called out, as well as ourselves and our complicity.  

The movie Don’t Look Up begins when Ph.D. student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a meteor in a telescope that will crash to Earth in six months. All human life will end when the meteor hits. This is guaranteed. She and her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), head to Washington DC to tell the President about this incoming doom. The midterm elections are coming soon, and let’s just say–this will not be good. 

Are you hooked yet? For this review, I am going to talk about both reasons to watch Don’t Look Up and some reasons the movie might not be for you. 

Reasons to Watch  

  1. Relevant Political Satire 

Don’t Look Up takes place in America and addresses the current political climate using dark humor. Don’t Look Up portrays the press, tv news, and big tech companies as utterly selfish and shallow. Light and fluffy sells, and drama make a fascinating story as long as it does not personally hurt us or challenge the comfortable ideologies and lifestyles we have settled into. We want shallowness and to feel placated, and this film shies away from nothing. The movie criticizes our selfishness, and it doesn’t just blame one group of people. The US government, owners of corporations, and media are responsible for the most damage, and they are called out rightfully. However, as the film depicts, all of America is afflicted by ignorance and self-interest, not just the higher-ups. 

The film’s president (played by Meryl Streep) is a self-centered politician who cares more about maintaining her position of power over public needs. Trump is never referenced outright, but she shares obvious similarities with him. The movie also jokes about how immoral politicians try to incorporate God, human values, and love in speeches all the while having affairs and lying out of self-interest. The film mixes exaggeration with realism well. For instance, the president wears a hat that says “Don’t Look Up” and stands behind a giant American flag. They also go to great lengths to downplay the numbers of the meteor. The president requests the scientists if she can tell the public the percentage that the meteor will hit the earth is 70% rather than nearly 100%. Lower numbers will not alarm the public before the midterm election. These jokes are based on Trump’s MAGA hat and his use of the phrase ‘” alternative facts.” It is one of those comedies where I didn’t laugh out loud a ton, but I appreciated the humor. 

The movie idea existed before the pandemic, but it bears many similarities. The movie is meant to be a metaphor for climate change, and it feels relevant to both issues. In general, science is treated the same way about both issues.

2. Realistic Portrayal of Scientists and Human Nature 

I read a few reviews online, and scientists have applauded this movie for its portrayal of their experiences. They share Randall and Kate’s frustration with the public, politicians, and media when they ignore, belittle, and undermine the research they have carefully compiled to present to them. Scientists try to tell people about climate change and vaccines, but their words are politicized, minimized, and altered in favor of answers that don’t disrupt or challenge their way of living. When a challenging but clear answer is in front of people, they take any opportunity to avoid it.  

The movie also shows how people are intuitively self-seeking. Everyone is more focused on their image over the impending end of all life. We also see tech leaders claiming the values of science, to improve life for humans and all forms of life while ignoring real scientists. 

The film also addresses human failures and accepts that some events are beyond our control. It also shows how power corrupts and we try to control the wrong things. The movie is also unapologetically tragic. Death is not romanticized and it is interesting watching what the characters choose to do on their final days.  

3. Good Acting  

Many of the characters represent ideologies, but they are people first. Kate and Randall are not perfect people, but I can empathize with them easily. They have been through the unthinkable. Meryl Streep plays an awful, self-serving president of the United States. Jonah Hill plays Jason Orlean, the president’s son: an annoying, shockingly accurate, and hilarious example of privilege and nepotism in politics.  

Some of the celebrities feel like they are randomly thrown in the film for no reason, but they were all good. Ariana Grande plays a celebrity much like herself and she adds some much-needed comic relief. She makes fun of herself and the media coverage of her, which I found fantastic. Apparently, she ad-libbed some lines too. Timothee Chalamet ended up in a pretty unexpected role, and he surprisingly adds heart to a terrifying story. 

4. Surprising Inclusion of a Christian Character and a Positive Portrayal of Faith 

I wasn’t sure how this movie would address religion, if at all, and I was surprised to find an Evangelical Christian character. Sure, they are not completely traditional, but the engagement was nice. Religion is respected by the main characters, even if they don’t agree. The movie primarily focuses on science and the importance of listening to and understanding the truth scientists discover about life, but Christianity does not always have to conflict with science. It was a small part, but I found it cool to see in a movie like this.  

A Few Things to Note 

These aren’t exactly cons, but if you’re considering watching this movie, it might be useful to be aware of these issues beforehand.  

  1. R Rating.  

The film is rated R, so that comes with some things. Don’t Look Up could easily have earned a PG-13 rating if they took out the swearing and the bit of nudity. I do think an R rating makes sense for the catastrophe and satire. The movie explores political themes and social issues in a way that wouldn’t succeed as a family film. I wouldn’t recommend the movie to anyone other than older teens and adults for the following reasons. 

Language: The film is rated R and it swears quite a bit. According to IMDB, the word “fuck” is used 42 times. Other swear words are also occasionally used. Much of the swearing takes place when the characters feel intense anger or frustration with their situation. While understandable in the context, the cursing did not do much for the film. Maybe we needed to be yelled at, but it is painful to watch. The message could have been addressed without as much language and it feels redundant at times during a big speech. If you don’t like a lot of swearing, the movie might not be enjoyable.  

Nudity: the nudity isn’t graphic and it is very brief. The film includes back nudity and partial frontal nudity. Overall, I wouldn’t say that nudity is necessary to tell the story; it is kind of just thrown in there.  

2. One-dimensional portrayal of people who disagree 

The public was all oblivious and ignorant to the events of the world around them. Despite the threat of all human life, no one cared except the scientist characters. People only listened when the politicians and celebrities told them to care either in support of or against evidence that the meteor was going to kill them. People who support Trump-like politicians and their policies were utterly one-dimensional. That is to be expected in satire, of course. I do think if the film is trying to convince people of a message, it excludes some people. If this is something that bothers you, I wouldn’t recommend this movie. Most of the focus is on the higher-ups, and the public is merged into one. The movie requires us to know how to laugh at ourselves, and if you don’t mind satire, it shouldn’t be a problem.  

3. American-Centric 

I suppose this was the point, but for an event like this, there’s no way other countries would not get involved. There are brief snippets of scenes from other countries, but they don’t really land well. The snippets felt like something the film had to include instead of an attempt at diversity. I was disappointed that the movie did not address the world as a whole, especially since everyone is going to die. Seeing how foreign relations interact with each other and understanding the meteor could have been fascinating. The film is very concerned with the USA, but the message and criticism of political power and media can apply everywhere. The focus on the US isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The movie wanted to focus on satirizing America in particular, and specific satire is better than general. I just wish the rest of the world’s response was included a little more. The United States of America, thankfully, is not responsible for the entire world and it would have felt more real if they said that.  

Overall thoughts  

I enjoyed this movie. I wouldn’t call it a powerful piece that will stay with us forever, nor is it the best film I’ve seen this year. It was engaging, but not laugh-out-loud hilarious. The message was a good one, and  It tried to mix satire and some inspiration, and it kind of works. I’m glad I watched it. I enjoyed watching actors I like and checking out a genre I don’t typically watch, and it is pretty good. Even with the few things I mentioned, I would recommend this movie and it is not 2+ hours I regret spending on Netflix. 

I wouldn’t make it out to be more than it is. It can be enjoyed regardless of political viewpoint. The movie points out the importance of science and calls people out through comedy and slight exaggeration. If you appreciate dark comedy, you should enjoy this film. It is a satire, but it also was pretty heartwarming. The movie made me want to be more aware of the world around me and take steps to help, but it wasn’t something that will change the world. It also isn’t too cynical. Though the movie was sad, I didn’t feel worse about the world than I already do. We are entering a new year. There is time to do good and spread awareness and learn about climate change, injustice, poverty, and find ways to help others. Maybe I’m being idealistic, but the movie seems to inspire hope rather than anything. We can listen, we can learn, and we can do better. We can ask more of our leaders and ourselves. 

Don’t Look Up is so similar to the political sphere, but it felt oddly comforting rather than distressing. The film never minimizes the horrors of what is happening to the audience. The humor balances well. 

If you like any of the actors, I think you will like this film. The cast plays roles that fit them perfectly. Don’t Look Up is bleak but its satire of celebrities, politicians, and social media help distract us from the tragedy. I would recommend it if you’re in the mood for a dramatic film that addresses the age, we live in. I also found the movie a little long, it is a little less than two and a half hours, and it seemed longer than it needed to be. It is still worth watching. They drag at parts, but so does life. Back during COVID, I remember waiting all afternoon for an email from our college president detailing whether or not we would go home. Sometimes, even in movies, it’s good to show the slowness, the anxiety of waiting and not knowing. Also, the ending is good, so watch the whole thing. 

Have you seen or heard of Don’t Look Up? What do you think? Let me know down in the comments below! 

Check out my Spoiler Review!

Also, after you’ve watched the movie, check out my spoiler review! I’m going to be discussing criticisms that I didn’t mention here, including surprising things I enjoyed and analyzing the character development and the overall message.