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Peel the Onion | Don't Look Up: Netflix Review

By J.B.Browne

Satirical Take On US-Led Apocalypse Spells the End for Us All


'Don't Look Up' is more disaster than disaster movie.

It unconsciously invents a unique brand of non-comedy because, well, stupidity in the face of the apocalypse isn't funny. More unfunny are the didactic principles of director Adam McKay's supposed satire, which doggedly pits America's rabid late-stage capitalism and systemic incompetence as the ONLY thing that would and could save us while pointing and laughing at how collectively stupid society is.

That is to say, McKay's parody of US culture, mass media, political discourse, and 'technofeudalism' though well-meaning offers no actionable solutions to the genuine possibility of extinction other than shitlib snark, which ends up more whimpering shrug than unifying hymn.

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence star as small-town astronomers who discover a colossal comet hurtling towards earth. In their panic, they attempt to warn humanity about it over the airwaves but are met with a tsunami of anti-intellectualism, collective self-obsession, ravenous technofeudalism, and good ol' human greed.

'Don't Look Up' has completely polarized audiences, arousing debate about what this disaster allegory could mean. Is the comet COVID or climate disaster? Is Meryl Streep's President Orlean "Trump"? Does Mark Rylance's character, the amalgamous tech fascist who influences policy in a crisis such as this, embody the four horsemen of totalitarian-capitalism in Fates, Zuckerpunch, Tusk, and Pesos?

Yes, to all three.

The film's all-star cast is rounded out with Timothee Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, and Tyler Perry, all of which are tremendous, as you'd expect from such big-name pros. But, they're mere salad dressing to the wilting leaves served. As their characters intertwine in the web of free fall societal breakdown and impending doom, we're asked to contemplate man's capacity for stupidity and the consequences of ignoring evidence through science.

'Don't Look Up' is a dumb movie about dumbness. Perhaps that's McKay's point; to appeal to the broadest common denominator. To get the message out that if 'we' (the American electorate) don't do something NOW, climate disaster or whatever allegory this is about will wipe us clean. By elevating and exaggerating a concept or event like this, the film drives home the point to those watching it as a study of human behavior in being clever by not being clever.

However, even if 'Don't Look Up' is not meant as high art, it's a remarkable film with a hidden layer of storytelling that most will miss should they remain in the hegemonic headspace that thinks no other country or people can handle a global crisis better than America.

At a critical juncture in the film, as the comet nears, reports flood in that Russian and Chinese attempts at averting the crisis have failed, leaving only America as Intergalactic Planetary Proverbial No.1. Whether the CIA sabotaged their attempts to help save the human race to maximize profits for US corporations is left unexplored (though in the real-world likely given past geopolitical transgressions).

But the message here is clear, no matter how silly or unlikely all this seems, given the evidence on screen, the world-saving ghost of America's Hollywood past is genuinely in rapid decline, incapable of the opportunity of heroism it thinks it might even have. That's some skyscraper hubris. And what is evident sitting through the film's 1.5 hour plus turgid dumbness is its refusal to accept any other outcome. Pure ego-tripping with the veneer of self-reflection through satire.

Instead, the film does a brilliant job of unironically showing the decline of America as a country and empire. If the comet is about COVID, then the utmost incompetency from the highest levels of government, first with Trump, now Biden, has resulted in a genocidal 59.4M cases and 835,000 deaths. If said space rock is about climate change, the world's largest polluter, the US military-industrial complex, is not mentioned once.

'Don't Look Up' tries to make fun of all of this without addressing the root causes of what it means to be American. The US, as is depicted, isn't even a country anymore and just a bunch of corporations in a trench coat manipulating a corrupt system of legalized bribery that end's up killing not just working Americans but the entire world. It's Hollywood signing off and saying, "if we can't do it, and we won't, no one will. K, bye, world. The End."

So now you're probably wondering if this film is any good, like a proper review or something. Who cares when the messaging and potential outcomes are so horrendous that the only way to do anything about it is nothing or pray that a new administration talks a better game to power by manipulating a society this entrenched.

And even then, 'Don't Look Up' comes across as an accidental allegory about the end of America, which takes the whole world with it—a headshot through the temple of human civilization falling back into prehistoric waters, a smokey cloud of deep red trailing behind.

System overhaul needed.

As he would refer himself, J.B. Browne is a half "foreign devil" living with anxiety relieved by purchase. HK-born Writer/Musician/Tinkerer.


The views do not necessarily reflect those of DotDotNews.

Read more articles by J.B.Browne:

Peel the Onion | In Defense of Cowboy Bebop: A Netflix Review

Peel the Onion | The Beatles: Get Back A Must Watch for Artists and Creatives (Part II)

Peel the Onion | The Beatles: Get Back A Must Watch for Artists and Creatives (Part I)


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