Hey, don’t blame the comet.
It can’t help it that it’s roughly the size of Mt. Everest. It’s never even been given a chance to slim down. It never asked to hurtle through space at 2,000 miles an hour. That’s just what comets do.
It doesn’t want to smack into Earth. In fact, it doesn’t really want to do anything. Comet Dibiasky (as it’s now known) is just a hunk of rock. Petty desires are beyond its scope of influence. And it was headed this way long before Kate Dibiasky spotted it in Michigan State’s telescope.
Still, it’s a concern.
Kate and her professor, Dr. Randall Mindy, need just a few mathematical calculations to figure out that it’s almost certain to hit the planet in about six months. They need even fewer to figure out what’ll happen if it does: It’ll be the end, that’s what.
Every living thing will be gone. Even cockroaches. Even algae. Even telemarketers.
Obviously, they need to tell someone—preferably someone with access to a great many missiles that could knock Comet Dibiasky onto a less-lethal trajectory. Naturally, their first call goes to the Planetary Defense Coordination Office and Dr. Clayton Oglethorpe, who goes by Teddy. He can get the astronomers a meeting with the president of the United States, and she has access to a great many missiles.
But while Teddy gets them into the Oval Office waiting room, the office itself is a harder nut to crack. Why, President Orlean is dealing with a crisis of her own: Her Supreme Court nominee was also once a nude model who showed a little more (ahem) enthusiasm for his work than was strictly proper. And let’s not forget the birthday parties she has to attend and White House gossip she has to engage in and bathroom breaks she has to take! The President’s work is never done.
So when Randall and Kate do successfully get their meeting with President Orlean, she seems less concerned with the apocalyptic comet than you’d think. Her advisors aren’t thrilled with the whole gloom-and-doom optics of it, for one thing—though they will acquiesce to calling it a “potentially significant event.” And is it really a certainty that the hunk o’ rock will hit the planet? Orlean suggests rounding down the odds to, oh, 70%. Because, let’s face it: The prospect of utter anihilation won’t play well during the midterms.
President Orlean would like to “sit tight and assess” the situation before deciding to do something drastic. But Randall and Kate feel like something drastic is called for. So they decide to do something drastic themselves: They’ll go on national TV and take their case directly to the people—if the hosts can squeeze a quick science segment in between their celebrity interviews and clever banter.
Saving the world isn’t as easy as it used to be.
Don’t Look Up is a satire, and many of its targets deserve to be a little skewered. It aims at big tech and social media, embodied by an oligarch named Peter Isherwell. (Isherwell’s company, Bash, has just introduced a new operating system called BashLiif, which the company trumpets as “Liif without the stress of living.”) It makes fun of short-sighted political goals at the expense of long-term problems. It slams vacuous, entertainment-obsessed media. And it reminds us that celebrity itself can be corrupting.
Randall—once a loving husband and father—finds himself lured away from wife and home as he slowly transforms into “America’s Sexiest Scientist” through myriad media appearances, even setting aside the serious issue he’s championing to parlay his influence and power into more celebrity.
“A man always has choices, Randall,” his wife tells him. “Sometimes, you just gotta make the good ones.” He makes plenty of bad choices in the film, but he eventually reverts to his earlier, better self.
That turn is telling, because as caustic as the movie’s satire can be, Don’t Look Up reminds us of our priorities should really be: family. Friendships. The beauty and glory of the world around us.
And you know what else the movie suggests is important? Faith.
That’s a little misleading, I suppose, given that many of the characters we see here aren’t religious at all or are only religious when it seems convenient to be. But this story does do something that many horror/apocalyptic movies refuse to acknowledge: When we’re faced with what could be the end of us, or the end of all things, our minds naturally turn upward—to ponder life and death and meaning and God in ways that we’re often otherwise too distracted notice.
Take Yule, an aimless twentysomething whose life mostly consists of drinking, skateboarding and making out. He confesses to Kate that he was raised evangelical (though he encourages her not to spread it around). While he eventually came to God in a different sort of way, he still believes. And when he sees the killer comet with his own eyes, his first thought is to turn to prayer. Later, during a touching dinner with family and friends, he launches into another beautiful, sincere prayer—asking “Father God” to shower us with His grace, mercy and love, even though we don’t deserve it.
The film shows other people engaged in religious practices, too—in a more documentary sort of form. We see short glimpses of people engaged in various religious traditions: an Islamic boy prepares to pray; a shaman dances on a mountaintop; the interior of a huge, beautiful church is bustling with activity. A child recites part of Psalm 23.
Other characters have a more warped view of faith. President Orlean says during a speech, “May Jesus Christ bless every single one of you—especially the members of my own party.” During another national address, she tells a war hero that “both God and I thank you” for his upcoming sacrifice. Her rallies are soaked in religious language lingo. Her son (who also serves as her chief of staff) wants to offer a prayer for “stuff,” all the material things that he’d hate to lose if the world went away.
We learn that Isherwell (the tech magnate) was “the guy who bought the Gutenberg Bible and lost it.” He also makes a rambling plea to not destroy the meteor, saying that the riches it contains could usher humanity through the “pillars of Boaz and Jachin,” which were the massive pillars that stood on the porch of Solomon’s Temple. (Those pillars, it should be noted, have symbolic significance for both Masons and Tarot practitioners as well.)
Kate’s old boyfriend has written a tell-all book about his relationship with her, calling her a “devil” in the book’s title. We hear conspiracy theories about how “Jewish billionaires” concocted the whole crisis.
A scene features dozens of fully naked adults of all ages wandering about, and viewers will see these birthday-suited people from every side and angle, with every body part exposed to the open air (and camera). While not meant to be titilating, we certainly get an eyeful.
Another vignette shows, for a split second, a couple in bed together, and we see a glimpse of the woman’s breast.
Kate’s old boyfriend digs up an old source of conflict when the boyfriend’s mother wondered aloud whether Kate was a lesbian. She’s not, and she picks up another boyfriend during the film. She and he kiss and make out passionately. (Before they date, another guy asks Kate if he can touch her hair “in a non-sexual way.”)
Randall becomes a sex symbol during the crisis, with social media declaring him an AILF (an obscene acronym that essentially means those polled would like to sleep with him). He eventually has an affair with vacuous television personality Brie Evantee. Brie aggressively comes on to Randall, squeezing his upper thigh during an on-air interview. Later, she essentially attacks him in a hotel hallway—kissing him violently. But Randall returns her smooches and the two fall into a hotel room together. We later see the two in bed together, talking after having sex. Brie finds this getting-to-know-you part of the relationship the most tedious element of any affair (she’s really in it just for the sex), but she does mention that she’s slept with two former presidents.
Randall’s wife is heartbroken when she learns of the affair, and she confronts the couple in their hotel room—flinging a bottle of pills that Randall uses for erectile dysfunction at her disgraced husband. When the two reconcile, she does so in part because she’d long kept an affair of her own hidden.
The scandal involving President Orlean’s Supreme Court nominee snowballs throughout the movie. At first, the scandal involves his former gig as a nude life model, during which he allegedly became sexually aroused. Later we learn he posed for pornographic magazines. And then it’s alleged that the President sent pictures of her privates to him and has been involved in an ongoing affair.
Orlean’s son, Jason, often makes uncomfortable references about his mother’s appearance, calling her “hot” and saying he can’t think of any other presidents he’d like to see in Playboy. Outfits can reveal cleavage and more.
An old war hero shoots into the sky. We see evidence of riots and looting. People throw bottles and other things at some folks on a stage. Nuclear missiles and high-tech explosive contraptions are fired at the comet, but some go awry and take each other out. We see a massive, man-generated explosion on Earth. An ostrich-like creature lethally bites and tears at the head of someone. FBI agents sometimes roughly handle characters. We see a split-second shot of what appears to be someone in bed, hand and wrist hanging out of the mattress. The owner of said hand and wrist could be simply sleeping or relaxing, but the context suggest that the person could’ve taken his or her own life.
And, of course, the entire premise of the movie—that a planet-killing comet is headed straight for Earth—is pretty violent itself. We hear people talk about the (ahem) impact that the disaster would have, from mile-high tsunamis to massive earthquakes.
[Spoiler Warning] The meteor does hit Earth. It’s over pretty quickly for most of the planet’s inhabitants, it seems: We see some a split second before their ends come, and the screens just turn black. But others know what’s coming. A group of people gather around a dinner table when it begins shaking for several seconds (as the people eating try to talk normally). The scene then jumps around and, at times, slows way down, so we can see the dining room walls explode behind nearly frozen-in-time diners. We get a view of the planet from some remove, as well: A frozen cow floats through space as we see much of the planet orange and black with fire.
We hear nearly 50 f-words and more than 20 s-words during the film. Words such as “a–,” “pr–k,” “p—y” and “h—” are also used. God’s name is misused more than 20 times (at least eight of those are paired with the word “d–n”), and Jesus’ name is abused about five times.
When Kate first learns that the comet she discovered is headed straight for earth, her first thought is to get high. We see her smoke marijuana shortly thereafter (and not for the last time).
But she’s hardly the only one to seek relief from the situation through chemical means. Randall takes a number of medications for various emotional and mental issues, including Xanax and Zoloft (some of which he shares with Kate). Others drink: Yule and his friends seem drunk most of the time when they’re first introduced to the film, and several of them smash bottles of liquor as they party. Others ride out the end of the world in a bar.
An old war hero—Col. Ben Drask—insinuates that he’s got a “couple of shots of Jack Daniels” in him as he heads into space, and that he’d really appreciate it if the President would take care of a couple of driving under the influence charges.
Obviously, lots of people make some really bad decisions and pursue some laughably terrible goals in Don’t Look Up. As a satire, that’s pretty much a given. But some will take issue with what the film satirizes, too.
President Orlean becomes a stand-in for Donald Trump, and the comet crisis itself could be analogous to the debate over climate change. Proponents of doing something about the comet implore the populace to “listen to the scientists.” But some folks don’t believe there’s a comet at all. And as the comet comes closer, science-supporting heroes are encouraged to “just look up” if they don’t believe.
In response, Orlean and her followers eventually embrace more of a comet-denier stance. She and other supporters adopt the mantra “Don’t Look Up,” and Orlean wears a telltale baseball cap emblazoned with the slogan. (It should be said that this stance is, even in the framework of the movie, wildly inconsistent with President Orlean’s policies before and after she dons the hat: Except for about 10 minutes of the movie, her administration doesn’t deny the comet, but rather believes that it’s a good thing.)
Leonardo DiCaprio. Jennifer Lawrence. Mark Ryalnce. Timothee Chalamet. Tyler Perry. Cate Blanchett. Ariana Grande. Meryl Streep. And on.
If there’s a movie this year with a bigger, starrier cast, I’m not sure what it would be. I’m pretty sure you could fill up an Amazon warehouse with the awards hardware the cast has collected over the years. And plenty of prognosticators believe that this film could earn a few Oscars of its own.
I get it. The movie is funny. Its satire often hits home. And the fact that it gives us one of the most curiously positive (albeit flawed) portrayals of an evangelical-raised Christian, well, that’s just about as crazy as the movie’s plot.
But I doubt that a lot of conservative Christians will be paying much attention to that character, given all the other stuff here that’ll raise their hackles and trigger their gag reflexes.
Don’t Look Up features plenty of nudity, loads of cussing and the darkest of dark comedy canvasses. It’s problematic from its first 30 seconds to its last, and that’s even setting aside the film’s satirical barbs, which many folks reading this review will find offensive.
And while literally hundreds of millions of families could stream Don’t Look Up via Netflix (the film’s deep-pocketed distributor), I’d advise those families to take a tip from the first two words of the movie’s title: Don’t look.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.