It’s Possible to Be Concerned About Climate Change and Also Hate “Don’t Look Up”
Finding fault with Adam McKay's latest satire doesn't mean you're necessarily part of the problem
Now that it’s been out for a few weeks, critics and audiences have had time to form a consensus about director Adam McKay’s climate change allegory Don’t Look Up, and it’s pretty bleak. The star-studded satire — in which a pair of astronomers discover a deadly comet headed on a collision course with Earth and are shocked by the general public’s indifference to their impending doom — currently has just a 55% on Rotten Tomatoes.
The main argument against the film is that it’s too heavy-handed and unfunny. “Don’t Look Up is a blunt instrument in lieu of a sharp razor, and while McKay may believe that we’re long past subtlety, it doesn’t mean that one man’s wake-up-sheeple howl into the abyss is funny, or insightful, or even watchable,” Rolling Stone‘s David Fear writes. “It’s a disaster movie in more ways than one. Should you indeed look up, you may be surprised to find one A-list bomb of a movie, all inchoate rage and flailing limbs, falling right on top of you.”
As the Wall Street Journal‘s Joe Morgenstern puts it, “[The premise is] squandered in a slapdash, scattershot sendup that turns almost everyone into nincompoops, trivializes everything it touches, oozes with self-delight, and becomes part of the babble and yammer it portrays.” KMUW’s Fletcher Powell writes, “Yelling ‘Look at all the dumb-dumbs’ cannot be the basis for successful satire.”
These are all fair points — though they seem to be falling on deaf ears. McKay and journalist David Sirota (who co-wrote the screenplay with the director) have been trying incessantly to defend the film on social media, asserting that those who didn’t like the film simply don’t care enough about climate change. “If you spend your days hating the people warning about the incoming comet — rather than spending your days trying to help stop the comet — then look in the mirror because you’re part of the problem,” Sirota tweeted on Christmas Day.
McKay retweeted one person’s assertion that “3/4 of the critic’s responses seem like hot takes written by jaded culture workers from an alternate universe in which the planet Earth was not in the early days of its most catastrophic upheaval in 100,000s or even millions of years” and added that the reactions to his movie are “just a function of A) How ridiculous & terrifying do you think the world is right now? divided by B) How ridiculous & terrifying the world ACTUALLY is right now.”
Of course, the idea that people are only reacting negatively to Don’t Look Up because they’re too dumb to care about climate change is a ridiculous oversimplification. Two things can be true at the same time, and it’s entirely possible to horrified and outraged by climate change while also feeling as though McKay and Sirota completely botched the execution of their movie’s message. There are, presumably, plenty of people who are working to help stop climate change who also disliked Don’t Look Up; asserting otherwise is like claiming that everyone who hated the celebrity-laden “Imagine” video in the early days of the pandemic thinks COVID-19 is a hoax. In fact, it’s highly unlikely that anyone who didn’t already recognize climate change as a very real threat to humanity would have their mind changed by a Hollywood satire; McKay and Sirota are simply shouting into an echo chamber, and if they’re not satisfied with the response, that’s on them.
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