“Don’t Look Up”: an endless cynicism as the only weapon to stir consciences

“I feel like this isn’t my job,” worried astrophysicist and university professor Randall Mindy (Leonardo Dicaprio), just before boarding a train bound for the cruel, chaotic and cynical world of the media. His interlocutor is Clayton “Teddy” Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office: «he only has to present the facts. Keep it simple. No formulas » she replies. The meeting with the President of the United States, Jean Orlean (Meryl Streep), has failed, politics is not interested in the arrival of the meteor that will destroy the planet, so it has proved necessary to find an alternative way (television) to warn humanity of the imminent catastrophe. The problem is that the professor doesn’t seem able to explain what will happen, or at least not in the most effective way for an incompetent audience (“but it’s all a formula…”). Luckily with Mindy is her much steadier (nearly) PhD candidate Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), the one who discovered the arrival of the meteorite by chance and who from the beginning of the film embodied the viewer’s incredulous point of view: how is it possible that no one takes the terrible news seriously?

Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence. Still from “Don’t Look Up” (2021). Director: Adam McKay

In the words of Commander Oglethorpe seems to hide the sense of Don’t Look Upthe latest film directed by Adam Mckay for Netflix. Perhaps thanks to the streaming platform itself, given the vastness of its subscribers, this science fiction satire of Kubrickian lineage (Doctor Strangelove1964) presents a significant simplification of the director’s playful, frenetic, metatextual style, especially when compared to the two films that have consecrated him among the most interesting auteurs of recent years: The big bet (2015) e Vice – The man in the shadows (2018). Considerable as the final act of an ideal trilogy on post-9/11 power, at first glance Don’t Look Up looks like a mere «show of the surreal» (to quote PhD student Dibiasky) at the complete service of the stars and divas that make up the cast. And in this it is symptomatic that he has filled the film, and the analysis it makes of contemporary society, with such a murky and diabolical cynicism as to erase any ambiguity or curious nuance: there is no charm or mystery in this end of the world, only a great repulsion that cloaks every little hope (the Chief of Cabinet of Jonah Hill or the space-cowboy of Ron Perlman are symbols of that choice). Just think instead of how amused the losers anti-heroes who bet against Wall Street (a reinterpretation of the heist-movie à la Ocean’s Eleven Of steven Soderbergh), or how hypnotic was Vice President Dick Chaney’s rapid rise to power (with the Richard III Of William Shakespeare taken as guideline). But precisely because of this declared simplicity Don’t Look Up manages to hit exactly where he wanted to hit.

Neither The big bet, in order to overcome the fourth wall and reiterate the biographical nature of the story, reality broke into the cinematographic fiction, mixed with it, however running on parallel tracks; how to forget it I explain in bathtub of Margot Robbie or that of Selena Gomez in front of a casino table. Instead in Don’t Look Upas well as had already been partly in Deputy – the man in the shadows (thanks to yet another physical transformation of Christian Bale), fiction has been designed to be a reflection of reality, to replace it, making his eventual and explicit appearance almost useless. Central is the sequence in which Mindy has a nervous breakdown during the morning show conducted by the comely journalists of Cate Blanchett and Tyler Perry. At one point, through the typical zoom used in television living rooms, the director sets a very close-up on the blue eyes of the professor (and therefore of the actor), those for which he was crowned as a sexy icon. Adams McKay he replaces the film camera with a studio camera, well aware that the passage will not disturb whoever is watching because he is bombarded at all times by any type of image. And it does so not so much to heighten the intensity or veracity of the performance as to quote and exploit the modus operandi of that “assault” journalism that maliciously tries to distract the viewer (and therefore us, the Netflix viewers sitting on the sofa) from uncomfortable words and concepts.

Jonah Hill, Mark Rylance, Meryl Streep. Still from “Don’t Look Up” (2021). Director: Adam McKay

Therefore the aforementioned metatextual character of the cinema of Adams McKay it no longer manifests itself inside the screen but outside, directly in the mind of the viewer who, pampered in a very comfortable position of privilege (the goal is to make us feel morally superior to all the characters), immediately recognizes the distinctive features of his daily experience. For example it is impossible not to associate Steve Jobs or Elon Musk to the creepy tech genius Peter Isherwell (an unpublished Mark Rylance which parodies his character in Ready Player One Of Steven Spielberg), just as it is easy to capture the ex-president’s movements and words Donald Trump in the performance of one Meryl Streep coiffed like an early 2000s pop star. But the list could go on and on given the amount of references to our present: from the eternal return of white supremacism to the complete distrust of science and its emissaries (incapable, among other things, of explaining themselves), passing through the horrendous emptiness of mainstream show and the destruction of complex concepts through slogans as long as a hashtag (Look Up/Don’t Look Up).

Meryl Streep. Still from “Don’t Look Up” (2021). Director: Adam McKay

In all this delirium without apparent end Don’t Look Up nonetheless manages to bring out its most important message, and the merit, to return to the maze of metatextuality, must be shared with the strong stage presence of Leonardo Dicaprioone of the most committed actor-activists in the fight against climate change. It’s just when he plays with mirrors (or with memesgiven the theme) that Adam McKay he gives his best and, although he has stripped himself of the “formulas” (even too much), he reminds us how much his undeniable genius always keeps him at a safe distance from any form of trivialization. But in this case it’s also why, quite possibly, the film works more in post-watch talks than during its run. Right or wrong, the individual viewer will decide.

“We’re all fucking going to die.”

“Don’t Look Up”: an endless cynicism as the only weapon to stir consciences