Don’t Look Up: Netflix’s Allegorical Commentary on Climate Change

Riley Schwanewede , Photography Editor

With the December 24th release date on streaming services, Don’t Look Up soon became Netflix’s second most-watched film within just 28 days of its release, and it even set a new record for the most viewing hours in a single week. The $75 million film stars various A-list celebrities, including Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Meryl Streep, Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, Jonah Hill, and more. Whether you got the chance to watch the film or only heard about it on social media, there is no denying it presents a bold message: the time for willfully ignoring the ever-clear warnings of climate change has come to an end. 

In the movie, an astronomer, played by Jennifer Lawrence, alongside her fellow scientist, Leonardo DiCaprio, makes a break-through discovery that a meteor larger than the asteroid that killed the dinosaurs is headed straight toward earth. In an attempt to make this devastating information known to the world, the characters go to the Whitehouse to inform the President that they have only six months until the entire planet will be obliterated. When the president chooses to ignore their warnings, they take to social media to boost their chances of enacting change by spreading information. To their dismay, a widespread campaign is launched in retaliation for their scientific discovery. This campaign, which is backed by propaganda-spreading politicians and businesses, is spread to incompetent masses and claims that there is no meteor at all. Despite the very real scientific evidence that was tested and backed by leading universities and scholars, people buy into the “Don’t Look Up” movement even when the meteor is clearly visible to the naked eye from earth. As a result of the evident political strife, this prevents the United States, along with other countries of the world, from taking proactive steps to combat or deter the inevitable meteor strike.  

In the end, some organizations launch rockets into space that are aimed to hit the meteor and prevent it from hitting earth. However, these plans fail because certain businessmen discover that the meteor is rich in profitable minerals, which they want for their own personal benefit, so they destroy the rockets before they can save the planet. Disguised behind motives to “create new jobs,” “end poverty,” and “stop world hunger,” these businesses launch a new project to break the meteor into smaller pieces that would hit earth, with less impact, and then be collected for monetary gain. Unfortunately, this plan fails too, thanks to little regard for scientific calculations and corrupt political-business relations. Spoiler alert: As a result, the meteor does, in fact, hit earth, bringing an effective end to the planet’s existence and life as we know it. 

It was the hope of director Adam McKay, who co-wrote the movie with the political strategist David Sirota, for the film to be both fun and terrifying for the audience. In the final scene when the planet is destroyed, just as predicted by the scientists from the very beginning, it was intended for this to re-emphasize the climate change allegory. McKay wanted the characters’ struggles to serve as a stark reminder that if nothing is done to combat the issue of climate change, which has been proved time and time again by scientific research, the planet will inevitably collapse. “The goal of the movie was to raise awareness about the terrifying urgency of the climate crisis, and in that, it succeeded spectacularly,” said McKay when he was asked what his primary objective for creating the film was.

Just like as depicted in the film, if politicians cannot devote enough time to addressing the issues at hand and continue to allow for business deals and corrupt bargains to prevent preemptive actions from being taken, then we will keep digging ourselves into a much larger hole. At the same time, if people continue to buy into propaganda and false information, the divisions between groups of people will only grow and worsen our current state of affairs. Amy Brady, writer of the Burning Worlds newsletter, explained, “It’s not that we don’t know what’s causing climate change. It’s that we don’t have the political will, which this movie exemplifies really well. Our politicians are in the pockets of billionaires, and climate scientists aren’t listened to.” Essentially, by continuing down the road we are currently on, the time will eventually come when it is too late for anything to be done to combat climate change. Thus, there is no time like the present to stop choosing to ignore the urgent warning signs because although climate change may not be directly affecting your life as of yet, that does not mean it won’t.