Don’t Look Up: A Doomsday Movie as Rorschach Test

The recently-released movie "Don't Look Up" can be seen as a brilliant comedy exposing our culture’s idiotic response to COVID-19.

Many conservatives who have viewed the Netflix movie Don’t Look Up find it to be a propaganda film for climate change and thus dislike it in spite of the brilliant performances and humor. (VidAngel offers a cleaned-up version of the R-rated movie.) 

I am sympathetic to that response but offer an alternative approach that might help people see a different message in a very enjoyable movie.

I believe it can be seen as a brilliant comedy exposing our culture’s idiotic response to COVID-19. In fact, there is one scene at the end, the shared meal of friends facing certain death, that comes dangerously close to making it a Christian film (explained below). Needless to say, this reading of the movie is not what the authors intended. 

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Recall that Plato considered seriously the possibility that the muses inspire poets (in this case filmmakers) and thereby enable poets to express truths of which they themselves are ignorant. Might we have an instance of that phenomenon here?

Don’t Look Up is a doomsday movie about Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio), an astronomer, and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), a graduate student, who discover a huge comet that, in six months and 14 days, will destroy the earth. It tells the story of these traumatized scientists trying to convince U.S. President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep) that something must be done. Afraid of the effect of the news of the lethal comet on midterm elections and a Supreme Court nomination, Orlean decides to “sit back and assess” rather than act immediately. 

Mindy and Dibiasky’s attempt to warn the public through the media also fails since vacuous talk show hosts (Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry), who only like pleasant news, cannot fathom the seriousness of the matter. When a genius billionaire cultural guru (Mark Rylance) discovers a way to make money from the comet, he steps up to rescue the planet with an implausible—and unsuccessful—plan.

While Don’t Look Up is a comedy, it is also deadly serious: as mentioned, it is meant to show us the fatal consequences of failure to respond to the dangers of climate change. (Yawn.) A central flaw in the movie is that our culture is very woke to climate change; governments everywhere have allocated obscene amounts of our tax money to stop or reverse climate change, which may be an instance of Mass Formation Psychosis (thank you, Dr. Robert Malone!).  

But some of us will see something very different in the inkblot this movie can be—we see an exposé of the insane response to COVID-19 that we have been living through for nearly two years.

The movie has many elements that apply even better to the refusal of the government, the medical profession, and the media to see the truth about the policies designed to combat COVID-19: that hundreds of thousands in this country alone have died because of failure to provide early treatment; that the lockdowns have greatly harmed small businesses and the economy at large and created mental health problems for many, especially the young.

Whistleblowers maintain that the “vaccines” have led to so many deaths and adverse events that requiring people to get them is an enormous violation of human rights. The narrative of the movie is that failure to act on what the scientists know will lead to the destruction of the earth. The critics of how our culture has handled COVID-19 fear that the government refuses to listen to scientists who challenge the narrative of Big Pharma and has seized upon COVID-19 to exercise near-tyrannical control over the population—control they will not easily surrender.

Indeed, one of the moments where the parallels between the movie and our COVID-19 situation is starkly obvious is when Dr. Mindy gives a very serious and unwelcome rant on the fatuous talk show, a warning that could definitely be applied to COVID-19. He expresses extreme frustration that even those experts who are publishing in peer-reviewed journals are being ignored because the government and the media don’t want to hear their message. My twitter feed is daily full of laments by frustrated scientists who have been or who risk being censured for offering evidence that COVID-19 responds well to early treatment and that hundreds of thousands have unnecessarily died. 

In spite of Don’t Look Up being a doomsday movie, it is a comedy. In fact, COVID-19 provides even more fodder for mockery. Hypocrisy is always a good source of comedy; we have all seen videos of politicians who, although having mandated masks, quickly remove their masks when they think the cameras aren’t rolling; we see school children in playgrounds wearing masks but stadiums full of maskless fans; we read of governors forbidding others to travel from state to state but who make exceptions for themselves for vacations. Few of us will forget that abortion clinics were kept open in the name of health, but churches were closed.

In some ways, what we are currently undergoing is scarier than parts of the movie: the arrest of the scientists in the movie and “removing them from the grid” should be just comic exaggeration, but it has become reality for the unvaccinated in places like Australia and Austria. Coming to a theater near you, soon. 

The comedy of Don’t Look Up is hampered by the fact that it is hard to spoof the government, media, and “experts” these days; what we see on TV and social media every day is regularly comical and even pathetic, not to say offensive to rational viewers. Luckily, the stellar cast makes somewhat stale material in that regard seem like genius.

But all is not stale. There are many fresh comic touches that surprise and delight, such as the “get-to-know-you” pillow talk between Orlean and Mindy, who speaks with childlike glee of his Star Wars poster signed by Mark Hamill. Dibiasky is flummoxed by and displays a near obsession (and I sympathize with this) with trying to understand why a three-star general would charge for snacks provided for free by the White House. Jonah Hill, who plays Orlean’s sub-intelligent son Jason and chief of staff, almost steals the show with his snarky put-downs.

The narcissistic Orlean is evidently meant to represent Trump, but I read the inkblot she presents as a fair likeness of Pelosi—substitute her smoking for Pelosi’s alleged drinking problem and it works. Orlean is surrounded by an entourage of sycophants and makes decisions based on the predictions of the next election cycle rather than the needs of the country, indeed, of the world.

The cultural guru Peter (who could be representing any number of contemporary characters or a combination of them, such as Fauci, Jeff Bezos, or Bill Gates) vacillates between delivering bromides and offering miraculous technological solutions—from which he will glean obscene financial profit—and, well, what do you know, will also be great for the economy. So, people now have a choice—they can view the comet as a source of an economic boom rather than as inevitable death. The authors weren’t thinking of vaccines that kill but also make millions for pharmaceuticals, but they should have been.

Nor could the writers have had Biden’s dementia in mind when they showed the seemingly autistic Peter trying to sniff a woman’s hair. That the president has an escape plan for herself and supporters shows the hypocrisy of the elite—let’s not forget the large and lavish, celebrity-packed, 60th birthday party Obama threw for himself in the midst of the pandemic. (And how much carbon fuel was consumed as the guests flew in?)

As several have observed, Don’t Look Up has three endings. In one, the politicians and their friends, who have spent 22,740 years in a spaceship, awake to a new dawn in a new place where the social guru announces that the loss of 57 percent of the passengers (like the loss of life through vaccines) was to be expected and was not a matter of concern. 

The fact that the first thing that happens is that Orlean gets eaten by an unknown, pretty animal indicates that life in the new world will not be any better than what they left, for they surely haven’t become any smarter—as in the Garden of Eden, naked people embrace attractive evil and die. As for the old world, the only human still alive is Jason Orlean, who is seen taking a selfie and asking for “likes and subscribers,” which suggests he is still in the private hell he has long inhabited. 

These two “extra” endings seem necessary to dilute the impact of the first “ending” —one that is dangerously Christian.

It is startling and takes a turn that can’t be anticipated. We can anticipate that, as the earth is being blown up, some will give themselves over to base pleasures; indeed, we get a glimpse of a grotesque orgy going on in an urgent care center that certainly looks like the pit of Hell. On the other hand, Dr. Mindy (who has been told by the guru, who claims to know all things about Mindy, that he was going to die alone), goes grocery shopping with friends to lovingly prepare a meal where the guests ignore all the media coverage of the final moments of life on earth. I doubt the writers had Babette’s Feast in mind, but there are thematic similarities, among them the reconciliations that happen.

What is really startling is the role played by Yule (Timothée Chalamet)—note his name—a disaffected youth who revealed earlier that he believes in God when he declared he was not worried about extermination; he figured if God wanted to destroy the earth, he would destroy the earth. When he saw the comet headed for earth, he ardently prayed: “Dearest Father, as a sinner I come to you for grace and guidance.” 

He steps up to lead the dinner party of unbelievers in a moving and apt prayer, for which all seem grateful: “Dearest Father and Almighty Creator, we ask for your grace tonight despite our pride, your forgiveness, despite our doubt. Most of all, Lord, we ask for your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in your Divine Will in courage and open hearts of acceptance.” The group does not die in fear. In fact, the last words are Dr. Mindy’s: “We really did have everything didn’t we?”

Not surprisingly, the reviewers generally fail to comment on the Christian elements of the movie. Those of us who know the Christian story find ourselves hoping that the dinner guests soon found themselves in the arms of a loving God. As for the others…well, they got what they deserved.

[Image Credit: Netflix]


  • Janet E. Smith

    Janet E. Smith, Ph.D., is a retired professor of moral theology.

tagged as: Art & Culture

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