Don’t Look Up | Reflections

Don’t Look Up. 2021, [R].

(Minor spoilers below)

[We] just watched this. Highly recommend. (But now I need a drink!) —email from good friends, Tuesday, December 28, 2021



For millennia, teachers, sages, jesters, and movie producers have been speaking truths using the storied parable as the preferred genre because “facts” don’t compel; “science” doesn’t sell. In some twisted and wild paradox, humanity has always needed fiction to face facts. (Is our only way to embrace reality a ruse?)

Consider this quote from Peter Kalmus:

The movie Don’t Look Up is satire. But speaking as a climate scientist doing everything I can to wake people up and avoid planetary destruction, it’s also the most accurate film about society’s terrifying non-response to climate breakdown I’ve seen. —Peter Kalmus

In this regard, the parable/allegory of Don’t Look Up is true. The depictions of various actors (as in the human participants in the real world that are portrayed on the screen) are real and the story is an accurate representation of reality. This is painfully illustrated by articles that ogle Meryl Streep’s nudity, speculate on the Masked-Up Film crew’s appearance, discuss the actors’ wardrobe, or delight at Jonah Hill’s ability to improv. Art does imitate life. In this case, a little too on the nose. 

Whether or not Peter Isherwell is some kind of Silicon Valley chimera hybrid I suppose has some merit, but to what degree, or to which particular people, we can continue to debate. Regardless, the technocratic idealistic delusion is alive and well, and the film’s depiction can be credited with a decent level of merit.

The “psychoscreening”—a term I just made up now to describe a film’s depiction of humanity’s psychological diversity—was a bit overdramatized, but only because exaggeration is a proper strategy of social commentary. I find it fascinating that in the face of apocalyptic realities, human responses continue to be expressed through any degree or combination of emotional breakdown, defiant obstinance, apathetic indifference, hedonic capitulation, and technocratic soteriology. In this regard, the film did well.


However, the great danger of any allegory is that it has the potential to distract as much as it clarifies. Most specifically, the comet is not climate, and the impending doom of climate change is radically different from the potential impact of an astronomical collision. The opening lines of the film, “Based on real events … that haven’t happened … yet,” are cinematically engaging, but are completely untrue in ways that are significant.

Climate change, first of all, is already happening and is already devastating portions of our planet causing real suffering. We’re not watching the comet about to hit. We’re watching a constellation of comets hit us over, and over, and over, and over, again. This destruction will continue to happen if we do not act.

Second, and worse, our current climate crisis is anthropogenic. Humanity is the primary driver and responsible agent for our ecological disasters leading many to call this era of earth’s history the “Anthropocene.” This is an astonishing truth and irony that the so-called “wise man” (Homo sapiens) is so foolish as to willingly perpetuate his own demise through the destruction of the very habitat that facilitated his “wise” development.

Third, the potential solutions to a comet (e.g. blowing it up with a nuclear blast) are singular and absolute; if we fail, we’re all doomed. With climate change, however, the solutions are diverse, interrelated, and nowhere near absolute. If we cannot decarbonize our economies now, chances are we will eventually. And even if we didn’t, we still have reforestation, agricultural and ocean regeneration, DAC (direct air capture) technologies, and geoengineering (though that latter solution has potentially wildly negative downsides). This truth is for the most part positive, in that, there is never a moment when we will have lost all possible solutions to the problem. And while it is true that the collapse of the Western Antarctic Ice Sheet or melted permafrost would be tipping points that we would not recover from for hundreds of generations, this does not necessarily mean “extinction.”


What is most important from the film is a lesson we should continually reach toward. The dramatic outplay of apocalyptic destruction is actually an allegory about us, and our responsibility to one another. Some might have misgivings for how the wealthy, liberal, Hollywood elite might depict portions of the population. They would be justified in their criticism as these kinds of caricatures are exacerbating our already divided tribal identities in our “one nation under God,” “E pluribus unum.” However, beyond the parody lies a profundity, that we all have agency—choice, will, ability—to chart a different path forward. We choose to succumb or to succeed. We choose to be foolish or wise. We choose sarcastic abdication or purposeful action.

In this way, I propose, we don’t have to look up. We simply have to look to ourselves, our fellow humans, and believe. Indeed, many are already doing so. Some of them even made a film about it.


The idea that the wealthy elite would recreate some sort of neo-Eden through a technologically advanced neo-panspermia tens of thousands of years into the future, that even if you did, the President of the United States would be eaten by some alien animal on this newly colonized planet, and that the last man on earth would take a selfie video about being the last man on earth, is all absolutely absurd.

And brilliant. Are we not equally absurd in our current state of affairs?

About VIA

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: