Note: this post contains spoilers for Don’t Look Up (2021)
Last week, I watched Netflix’s 2021 disaster-comedy film, Don’t Look Up. I heard from others that it was depressing to watch, due to its astute social commentary and grim ending. However, I found Don’t Look Up‘s ending quite comforting. I had a similar reaction to Bo Burnham: Inside (2021) which was also about coping during a crisis.
There is an abundance of articles, reviews, and video essays discussing the ‘doom and gloom’ of Don’t Look Up. So, I would like to talk about the optimistic lessons I’ve learnt from the film.
What happens in Don’t Look Up?
PhD candidate and astronomer Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a new comet. However, Kate and her professor Dr Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) realise that the comet is heading straight for Earth. The entire planet will be destroyed if the comet hits.
The film is seen as controversial by many reviewers. It contains scathing commentary on how politicians and the media have reacted to both the climate crisis and the pandemic.
Don’t Look Up– a crisis survival guide
Dr Mindy: How is it criminal if we just tell people, like the public, you know, what we saw, and tell them the truth? Right?
Benjamin: Make sure this one gets some kind of media training before he hits the shows. He seems a step slow.Don’t Look Up, Adam McKay, Netflix, 2021
With the invention of the internet, information has become more accessible than ever. Unfortunately, so has misinformation. There’s already been a lot of discourse about ‘fake news’, so I won’t bore you with the details. In a crisis, however, it’s only reasonable to want to know what’s going on. So, it can be very difficult and frustrating to find trustworthy sources.
Bias and ambiguity
I believe that everyone is biased. And I don’t mean that as an insult; we’re all born with our own perspectives and experiences. I see this as a beautiful thing. It implies that everyone has something unique and interesting to offer. However, I can’t deny that it shatters the comfortable idea of complete objectivity. Bias generates ambiguity which is unavoidable when seeking the truth.
Critical thinking and media literacy
There are a few methods you can try to understand what you’re reading, watching, or listening to. You may already have a lot of buried knowledge from those boring literacy classes in school. So, don’t feel intimidated by the critical thinking process!
I can’t talk about critical thinking without addressing the argument evaluation method I’ve learnt in my philosophy major. I’ve linked some websites down below that I feel best reflect what I’ve learnt at university. However, I understand if you find this method formulaic and difficult to apply. Here are some simple questions that could try asking yourself when you come across an argument:
- What kind of reaction is this argument trying to get out of me?
- What kind of tone is the author/speaker using to convey the argument?
- Has the author/speaker mentioned any sources as evidence? Do they seem reliable?
- How has the author/speaker addressed the opposing opinion?
- If the author/speaker has an anecdote of a lived experience, what position does it reflect in a broader cultural context?
Feel free to apply these questions and the argument evaluation method to my blog posts! It’s easy to fall into the trap of believing a bad faith argument due to an authoritative tone.
And remember, ‘research’ isn’t just doing a Google search, but an extensive process of cross-examining and evaluating lots of sources. I don’t have a formal opinion on most things in life because I simply don’t believe I am knowledgeable enough. I think we should normalise admitting when we don’t have enough information.
‘Just Look Up’- a lesson in acceptance
Kate: Maybe the destruction of the entire planet isn’t supposed to be fun. Maybe it’s supposed to be terrifying. And unsettling.Don’t Look Up, Adam McKay, Netflix, 2021
When the comet becomes visible, more people believe in its existence, prompting the ‘Just Look Up’ movement. Despite its visibility, the conservative government responds with the ‘Don’t Look Up’ campaign. They encourage people to ignore the problem and go on with their daily business.
So, what’s the best approach- ‘Don’t Look Up’ or ‘Just Look up’?
First of all, the visibility of the comet means that you can’t avoid it. It’s right there. To deny its existence and impact isn’t a case of a lack of knowledge, but intentional denial. In my experience, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away. Instead, it plagues your mind. And the result tends to be far worse than it may have been if you dealt with it sooner. With its inevitability, it’s best to address the elephant in the room whether we like it or not.
Facing your fears is certainly not an easy task, but it’s very beneficial. Over the last few years, I’ve learnt that acceptance isn’t about wallowing in the devastation of a crisis. It’s about acknowledging that the problem is there and adapting to whatever changes come, even if it’s painful.
Practising gratitude and taking advantage of the situation
Dr Mindy: We really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, when you think about it.Don’t Look Up, Adam McKay, Netflix, 2021
Of course, accepting a crisis is easier said than done. Often, the pain and confusion is so harsh that it feels easier to give up.
That’s why the ending of Don’t Look Up is so heartbreaking. Many reviews, videos, and articles about the film have emphasised how it illustrates our inability to save ourselves.
But I would like to draw attention to the scene just before the planet’s destruction. Kate and Dr Mindy have accepted the world’s ending. Instead of constantly assessing the comet’s trajectory, they share a final meal with their close family and friends.
This scene is so comforting to me. Everyone talks about what they’re grateful for, and it demonstrates such a deep appreciation for the world. Often, having something stripped away from you makes you more appreciative of it. I think that resonates with all of us existing in the early 2020s.
I’ve adopted a mantra over the last two years. I always tell myself to ‘take advantage of the situation’. This blog may have never existed if I didn’t work on it during the strict lockdown periods. Audio journaling has helped me a lot with maintaining this optimistic attitude.
Even if you didn’t enjoy Don’t Look Up, we can’t deny that it’s provoked intense discussion. The film reveals that we’re all storytellers, crafting our own narratives. But with great power comes great responsibility.
Don’t Look Up encourages us to be conscious. We need to face our problems despite the pain. Investigate what we’re told. And understand who we are and our place in the universe.
Sources that inspired me
Don’t Look Up reviews and interpretations
- Townsend, Gilbert, Sims, and Kornhaber’s The Atlantic article ‘Why Are People So Mad About Don’t Look Up?’
- ‘Don’t Look Up’s Real Message and Ending, Explained’ by The Take
- ‘How ‘Don’t Look Up’ plays with the portrayal of science in popular culture’ by Kelsey Simpkins for University of Colorado Boulder