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Don’t Look Up: a Film to Flatter its Audience

Netflix’s Don’t Look Up will please its target audience who holds the conceit that they are in possession of the facts, while those that disagree with them are too benighted to see a metaphorical comet coming towards the earth. Meryl Streep as President Orlean is, among other things, a parody of President Trump, complete with trucker hats and printed slogans. Once this is established, it can be taken for granted that she will be the antagonist of the film.

In the perspective of film maker Adam McKay apparently, conservatives don’t want to “look up”, which is to say they don’t want to recognize obvious truths. What is the metaphorical comet coming towards the Earth? One thinks first of Covid, which Republicans have tended to minimize (or perhaps not overreact to from their perspective) whereas liberals have sought to take maximal action in order to mitigate. It could also be global warming, or any other underappreciated imminent catastrophe.

Leonardo Dicaprio’s Dr. Randall Mindy and Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate Dibiasky are exasperated scientists who cannot get their dimwitted, meme-obsessed fellow Americans to take seriously a comet which will imminently destroy life on Earth.

The political message of Don’t Look Up becomes crystal clear when President Orlean holds a MAGA style rally. Orlean’s rhetoric is meant to serve as an example of right-wing “divisiveness.” She is unnecessarily pitting an “us” against a “them.” White working class fans of the president are shown mindlessly and cheerfully repeating her slogan, Don’t Look up.

“Do you know why they don’t want you to look up?” she asks the rabid crowd of ignorant rabble (read: Republicans). “Because they want you to be afraid!”

“They want you to look up, because they are looking down their noses at you”

If you thought Orlean was meant to represent a Democrat president because she’s an educated White female, or the picture on her desk with Mariah Carey, you are quickly disabused of that notion. The idea that there are elites looking down on you is a trope of right-wing populism, exploited by Rush Limbaugh on through to Tucker Carlson.

“You keep your eye on the road ahead. You put your head down, and put one foot in front of the other,” she tells the crowd. Those who would reject the left’s prognostications are simply putting their heads in the sand.

The Fauci-like Dr. Randall Mindy loses his even-temper and resorts to swearing at the television cameras imploring viewers to take this comet seriously. He loses his patience not just with the right-wing politicians who are too short-sighted to save humanity, but also with the short-attention span culture of America.

Although the message of Don’t Look Up is heavy-handed and self-serving, Dicaprio’s unexpectedly comedic performance alone makes the film worth watching.

But the message is clear enough: Imagine fancying that your political enemies fail to have your understanding solely due to their own stupidity, or due to Fox News. In that sense, viewing Don’t Look Up must be a cathartic experience for folks who happily digest the received conventional wisdom and can’t imagine anyone disagreeing.

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