‘Don’t Look Up’ Takes Aim at the Media

In the recent Netflix movie Don’t Look Up, a pair of scientists attempt to warn an indifferent public that a comet is about to crash into the Earth. Science fiction editor John Joseph Adams says the film is a hilarious example of satirical sci-fi.

“I was really surprised at how much I enjoyed that aspect of it,” Adams says in Episode 497 of the Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy podcast. “I thought maybe the science fiction stuff or the humor stuff would be done well, but not both.”

The movie is intended as a metaphor for climate change, but Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy host David Barr Kirtley says the film’s portrait of a culture poisoned by triviality and narcissism invites multiple readings. “The climate change metaphor is pretty obvious when it’s scientists trying to alert the media to danger and being ignored,” he says. “But I feel like so much of the satire is directed at the media that that’s what sticks in my mind more.”

Don’t Look Up is currently the number two most-watched movie on Netflix, but it has received mixed reviews from critics. Humor writer Tom Gerencer says the film may have struck a little too close to home for some reviewers. “I think a lot of the critics went into this thinking, ‘I know what this is. It’s going to point the finger at the people I don’t like,’” he says. “And then it pointed the finger at everyone, including them, and they’re like, ‘That’s really uncomfortable. I don’t like that.’”

Fantasy author Erin Lindsey enjoyed Don’t Look Up but wishes it had shown a bit more depth and ambition. “I would like to see more movies that attempt to do what this movie was attempting to do,” she says. “I would just plead with the writers to please not make it so American-centric, because it is deeply ironic to me that you would make an allegory about global climate change so obsessively navel-gazing on the United States.”

Listen to the complete interview with John Joseph Adams, Tom Gerencer, and Erin Lindsey in Episode 497 of Geek’s Guide to the Galaxy (above). And check out some highlights from the discussion below.

Erin Lindsey on politics:

I worked for the UN for a very, very long time, including sitting in on Security Council meetings—the closed door meetings, not the ones you see on TV … It was funny to me because one of the scenes that my sister singled out as being ridiculous was that first scene in the White House, where they brief the president and she’s not overwhelmingly alarmed by this news. And actually I thought that scene was, perhaps depressingly enough, relatively realistic. I’ve seen the way world leaders can actually become inured, to a certain degree. There’s a point where Meryl Streep’s character says something to the effect of, “Do you have any idea how many ‘end of the world’ meetings I’ve had?” And really that’s only a slight exaggeration. So a lot of the way that went down—those opening scenes—really was quite realistic.

Tom Gerencer on religion:

Toward the end there’s this scene where Jennifer Lawrence’s boyfriend starts praying. And I was like, “OK, here we go. They’re going to start dragging religion through the mud.” And I was like, “Whatever. They’re dragging everybody else through the mud. Who cares?” But they really didn’t. They had him start praying, and he was like, “Do you think it’s stupid?” And she was like, “No, I think it’s kind of sweet.” That develops later on in the movie and becomes sort of a theme, that he has this genuine religion or connection to God, whatever you want to call it, that they didn’t make fun of at all. They treated it kind of reverently, and I was touched by that. Here’s where they had an opportunity to lampoon religion, and they didn’t.

John Joseph Adams on The Hopkins Manuscript:

When they want to mine the comet for rare minerals, that reminded me of this satirical apocalypse novel called The Hopkins Manuscript … In the book, the moon comes loose from its orbit, and it’s going to crash into the Earth, and people are doing similar things where they’re bickering—though they don’t disbelieve that it’s happening. This is right after World War I, and the world has just had this immense conflict, and then there’s peace. But then the moon crashes into the Atlantic Ocean, and it just smashes flat like a pancake, making new land in between North America and Europe that’s full of minerals, and so everybody goes to war again over this new resource. [Don’t Look Up] reminded me a lot of that, just because there were so many different commonalities.

David Barr Kirtley on the environment:

There’s something about [the last scene] that was so memorable and horrifying. I feel like 20 years from now, when I think of this movie, that’s the thing that’s going to pop into my head … I guess one very slight misgiving I have about this movie is that so often I hear people say really dumb stuff like, “Oh, if the environment gets too bad on Earth, we’ll just go to another planet,” and this sort of fed into that. I’m sure most people understand that that’s not going to happen, that we’re nowhere even remotely close to being able to send people to another planet. But I feel like there are enough people who don’t understand that somehow that I just want to do whatever I can to get the message out. As environmental activists say, “There is no Planet B.” We’re not going to another planet. You can get that out of your head right now.

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