Don't Look Up

Don't Look Up ★½

Boomer Doomerism

Updated 12/11

I was giving this one more thought (much to the chagrin of a friend who thought I was giving it too much thought and fair enough) because I was trying to put my finger on what made this inherently fail so much in my mind.

There is a slick and terminally cynical lack of humanity to the characters in Don't Look Up that prevents the audience from wanting our species collective salvation in the first place. What McKay does is actually mind-bogglingly antithetical to its driving premise.

He paints scientists as either cynical rebels or paralyzed with anxiety (unless they're getting their rocks off), media figures as vapid and saccharine, politicians as narcissistic sociopaths (ok, that one might be true), artists ditto, and CEOs as extensions of their cyborg creations. Sure, there's some truth to these generalizations, but even if there are, how does that serve your story built on the desire to save humanity?

These characters have no depth because McKay is too busy cultivating personifications of ideologies, rather than tapping into the human condition. I'm bereaved to even mention these in the same sentence, but take Dr. Strangelove as a counterweight. Kubrick isolates the generals and politicians from the rest of humanity, out of budgetary necessity sure, but also to create a claustrophobic purview of these particular mindsets of people. This doomsday poker table is not emblematic of civilization, but of a handful of dumb and paranoid people in charge of an atomic weapon well beyond their understanding. The only character of lower ranks he establishes is a cowboy having a hell of a good time when things do go bad (the infamous scene need not be mentioned).

In Don't Look Up, humanity is so lacking that McKay must produce montages of Pond5 footage to persist the idea that earth and its inhabitants are worth saving, an idea - given McKay's cynical track records - I don't even think he believes.

Instead he's more interested in deluding the audience into thinking this is an "American" problem and therefore necessitates an American solution. Of all the American exceptionalism in cinema today, this has to take the cake. As if any other superpower wouldn't be smart or concerned enough to catch this thing first. To think with such Americentrist myopia about the end of humanity is a classic exercise in the very nature which will bring down the rest of the world. The rest of the world, by the way, is relegated to a few frames in different countries (praying? eating?) and a throwaway line about the "United Nations."

To McKay, only America is worth the runtime about the brink of destruction and only America is worth saving. But what a shame because you miss out on the absolute comedic potential of investing in other countries and their disputes with America. The scene between the Russian and American president is like one of the funniest scenes in Dr. Strangelove and it's also the scene which Kubrick took a lot of heat for because the U.S. Military didn't want to potentially stir the pot with Russia (the only other Nuke-bearing country at the time) at the height of the Cold War.

There’s just so many missed opportunities here because, despite its condemnation of the panic surrounding the world ending, McKay is too scared as a filmmaker to even broach a wider scope of vision and yet too hubristic to consider that one is worth pursuing in the first place. I find this dangerous concoction of fear and confidence in McKay's work that is impossible to shake. It is the work of someone having all the means and want to show greatness but way too scared or not knowing how to even approach it.

Most of it feels like the dregs of a low-tier SNL sketch, without the broadcast virtue of knowing it only has ten-ish minutes to land or not. This has no self-awareness as to when to move on from a stale joke and just lingers on some premises that feel super dated. Remember when blonde airhead (but not) news anchors were the subjects of jokes? Yeah, 1986 called, they want their stereotypes back.

I wish I could say I thought about this film with lingering contemplation or even a reach for comedic memories, but it's only aroused thoughts of everything you shouldn't do as a writer/director with access to everything. A great symbol of Western sycophancy. If aliens found this film after our species got annihilated, they would hover around earth a bit longer to make sure we didn't return.

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