Don’t Look Up: a movie that clowns America – in a good way



The pervasive symbolism of Don’t Look Up hits close to home for contemporary audiences.

**Warning: Spoilers ahead**

You get a notification on your phone, but this time it’s not your usual flash flood warning; it’s much worse. In exactly six months and fourteen days, a comet will hit the Earth, driving humanity to extinction.  

Don’t Look Up, released on December 5, 2021, is Netflix’s new hit movie and has reached 152.29 million watched hours. The movie had a great reach: people of all ages were attracted to the popular and diverse cast of highly acclaimed actors: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Ariana Grande, Timothee Chalamet, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Chris Evans, Jonah Hill, and Kid Cudi.

Don’t Look Up examines modern politics, popular culture, and media through a satirical lens. It features Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his astronomy graduate student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence). Together they discover that a comet is about to hit the Earth in less than a year and has the potential to kill all life on Earth. Upon realizing such a catastrophe, Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky present their findings to President Orlean (Meryl Streep), her brother Jason Orlean (Jonah Hill), and wealthy tech Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) in attempts of finding a solution collectively. Nonetheless, this proved to be a difficult task.

Adam McKay (the writer-director) and the production company Hyperobject Industries aimed to create a movie highlighting the dangers of undermining scientific facts for short-term material gain. Through humor and satire, McKay hoped to convey this message to a greater audience. The movie acts as a wake-up call to humanity: we shouldn’t ignore the warning signs of a deteriorating environment and must act before it’s too late.

What makes this movie different from most is the metaphors employed in the film that symbolize real-life events. Here are many of the top symbols in Don’t Look Up.

#1: The Comet vs. Global Warming and the COVID-19 Pandemic:

In the film, the comet symbolizes both the COVID-19 pandemic and global warming worldwide. After Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky scientifically proved that the comet will hit the Earth, not everyone panicked in the way you would expect people to. Just like how many don’t believe in global warming and others don’t believe the COVID-19 vaccine works – let alone believe in the existence of the virus- many characters in the movie politicized the existence of the comet. They believed that the comet was a “government lie,” while others protested against the president wearing hats that said “Don’t Look Up” (a slogan in response to “Look Up,” which served to take action against the comet).

#2: President Orlean vs. President Trump:

Throughout the movie, the clear parallel between fictional President Orlean and former real-life president Donald Trump is evident. Both presidents were known “celebrities” that had “alleged sexual” rumors about them. Additionally, global warming and COVID-19 were prominent struggles for the Trump’s presidency, just like how the comet was during Orlean’s presidency. Orlean was also known to make rude remarks in a similar way to how Trump wrote insensitive tweets online.

#3: Peter Isherwell vs. the Contemporary 1%: 

In the movie, Peter Isherwell is meant to symbolize successful modern businessmen. As a billionaire, it is clear that his economic and social status in society strikes a close resemblance to that of CEOs like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos. As a character, he is more devoted to making money than he is to improving the environment. This is relevant to the real world as many accuse the rich of creating profit at the expense of the environment or prioritizing money over natural crises. In real life, these criticisms have incentivized these CEOs to invest in projects that aim to improve the environment.

As an advocate for climate change himself, Dicaprio successfully fulfilled and lived the role of Dr. Randall Mindy. DiCaprio starred in yet another groundbreaking movie – however, this time, he played a serious character. Unlike his roles in Wolf of Wall Street and Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, he managed to extend his acting legacy by demonstrating his acting versatility. Nonetheless, others, including the role of President Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, were successfully executed. Though not really known for her comedic relief but for her serious and “on top of the game alpha female” demeanor in her other popular films (The Devil Wears Prada and Little Women), she showed her comedic side, which surprised us when watching. What also surprised us was when she got naked at the very end – something Meryl Streep has never done in her career. Even though this was obviously not their first movie, Don’t Look Up served as a new experience for the cast – allowing them to expand their acting boundaries.

Don’t Look Up– or rather, what does it take to make people look up?