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Don't Look Up (2021): Science Deniers & the End of the World

Don't Look Up is an ugly look into our society rampant with climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers, and flat earthers. Gabe relates entirely too much to the screaming, frustrated astronomers trying to tell everyone the world is ending soon. Kat tells you why the world is ending soon.

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Don’t Look Up (2021)

Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth.

Directed by: Adam McKay


Don't Look Up: Rage Against Science Deniers by Gabe Castro

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

This film got some pretty bad critic reviews and I find that hilarious because I’ve only ever heard amazing things from the general populace. How out of touch. It’s not surprising to me that it got this split review though. Similar to The Hunt, the film famous for being canceled before it began and happened to be specifically about just that - cancel culture, or the summer murder-game favorite, Squid Game, I am not at all surprised that many missed the entire point. This film sits happily in the family of films that calls out our culture’s issues while also being ridiculed in real time for doing just that.


A graduate student, Kate DiBiasky (played by J Law - welcome back babe) discovers a comet and it’s a celebratory event - that is until they realize it’s coming straight for Earth. It’s larger than the meteor that annihilated the dinosaurs and it’ll be arriving soon - like, in 6 months soon. You learn this, immediately. And you might think as a viewer, “Wow what a weird way to begin - already knowing the Earth is in peril.” But there is so much more to explore.

These two astronomers, the grad student and their professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (played by Leo DiCaprio) do what any human who discovers such literally earth-shattering news - they bring to the folx in charge. For this film, it's a comical (though not entirely off-base or impossible) right-wing parody mash-up of Trump, Biden, and Hilary Clinton. President Orlean (played by Meryl Streep), is absurd but far too honest. The astronomers deliver the news, the world is going to end. They are met with a PR prep meeting that requires them to reduce the 99.9% likely impact to roughly 70% (so as to not inspire panic) and told to “sit tight and assess.”

There are a few moments in the film where you will feel a sense of completion, of hope. Maybe people aren’t as bad as we say they are? Of course we would come to our senses when given such indisputable truth? But capitalism rears its ugly head again and again in this film. I won’t spoil the film because I really want people to watch it but know that people are trash, always.

Also, there’s a concert featuring Ariana Grande singing a song asking people to “Look Up!” (aka Wake up) and all I could think is that we need to connect Ariana with Greta Thrunberg and make an awesome climate change concert to raise funds and awareness. It’s the only way to get through to the masses, honestly.

The Ugly Truth

There is so much that is ridiculous about this film but I never once felt in it’s absurd, dark comedy set-ups that it was…unreal. From the morning talk show (I used to watch Live with Regis and Kelly religiously in my early college years - idk why) to the celebrities, and the obsession with what’s trending. Characters learn of the state of the world and their immediate reactions are honest (vomit, panic, fear) but their coping mechanisms kick in and you see as they grasp at straws - trying to find literally any excuse or explanation that does not point to the entire world dying in the span of an evening. It was outrageous and hilarious but also terrifying. It felt honestly too real at times. Coming fresh out of a Trump presidency, I don’t get surprised by the stupidity, the eager blindness, and the insane misinformation campaigns. This is America. It’s easy to compare the response within and outside of the film to our world’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. How many news reporters, political figures, social media celebrities, and other “important” faces have severely impacted this pandemic with misinformation, suppression of life-saving information, and other insane ideologies?

I felt incredibly close to Lawrence’s Kate DiBiasky. Her cries for attention and for anyone to just acknowledge the severity of this situation felt much like Kat and myself, every week on this podcast. Kate has a live breakdown on TV (we’re always close to one of those) where she shouts “You should stay up all night every night crying when we’re all, 100 percent, for sure, going to f-ing die!” and I felt that IN MY SOUL. If that isn’t what we are yelling at y’all every single week, I don’t know what we’re missing?

And the film isn’t too far off with it’s science, thanks in part to Director McKay insisting they have an “astrotech adviser”, Amy Mainzer. Maizner is the principal investigator for NASA’s NEOWISE mission, which is tasked with finding and characterizing near-Earth objects (NEOs). She worked on set and even helped write. However, this film isn’t just about comets or astrology - it’s about climate change and our world’s willful ignorance to the impending disaster. No, a comet is not coming to kill off all life but that doesn't mean it isn’t in danger. All these things we hold dear and sadly take for granted are at risk as we continue on this destructive course. That’s what the creators are aiming for - you to feel that doom as something happening tomorrow (not hundreds of years from now).

More importantly, this film is about science-deniers. Whether that’s climate change-deniers, anti-vaxxers, or even those who truly don’t believe in the horror of the space junk/meteors/debri/etc that can at any time make its way to us and greatly alter life on Earth. McKay even said after an exclusive screening for scientists, “This film is for you, the scientists. We want you to know that some of us do hear you and do want to help fight science denialism.”


Earth in Peril: We Have 7 Years to Fix the Planet of Else! by Kat Kushin

RED: Quotes, someone else's words.

I think it’s really interesting that Don’t Look Up got many bad reviews, in that it wasn’t a horrible film, or even really a bad film. I think some of the reviews stemmed from the fact that a lot of what the film called out is true. That capitalism doesn’t want the planet to be saved, that America and everything it stands for doesn’t want the planet to be saved. That the powers that be, would rather listen to the loudest and richest person in the room before they sign off on something that would take money from those people. In some ways I think this film wasn’t radical enough for me, in that it didn’t offer any kind of solution outside of the status quo. While climate change is as daunting and as dangerous to us as a giant space rock hurtling towards us, that everyone doesn’t want to look at, I think there has to be a sort of reckoning with the fact that in order to not let that rock hit us, we’ll probably have to dismantle systems that led us into this position in the first place…and that that won’t be easy, and will probably be a really bad time for a lot of people. That making the planet a better place will need for us to change our entire understanding of what it is to live on this planet. That there will have to be so much deprogramming of ourselves to rationalize doing the thing that doesn’t have any monetary reward.

Honestly the most realistic part of this film for me, was the fact that the technology to destroy the giant space rock existed, and in fact that science is real. If a rock like that did come for earth we have the technology to destroy it. But what really hit the hardest for me for this film was that even though there was a solution to save the planet, that people signed off on not destroying the space rock and instead letting this idiot rich man say that the murder rock would provide jobs and that they could mine diamonds and other minerals out of it. They even blatantly admit that they’ve sucked this planet dry and that this is the “solution” cause all he sees is dollar signs. That’s the biggest problem, and I think in that way the film was very frustratingly accurate. Our enemy in this current fight against climate change is that man, the rich A**hats who literally only see dollar signs. That is what will be our planet's downfall.

If you don’t believe me, there are scientists who really agree with the portrayal. I’m a climate scientist. Don’t Look Up captures the madness I see every day by Peter Kalmus on the Guardian. “This isn’t a film about how humanity would respond to a planet-killing comet; it’s a film about how humanity is responding to planet-killing climate breakdown. We live in a society in which, despite extraordinarily clear, present, and worsening climate danger, more than half of Republican members of Congress still say climate change is a hoax and many more wish to block action, and in which the official Democratic party platform still enshrines massive subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; in which the current president ran on a promise that “nothing will fundamentally change”, and the speaker of the House dismissed even a modest climate plan as “the green dream or whatever”; in which the largest delegation to Cop26 was the fossil fuel industry, and the White House sold drilling rights to a huge tract of the Gulf of Mexico after the summit; in which world leaders say that climate is an “existential threat to humanity” while simultaneously expanding fossil fuel production; in which major newspapers still run fossil fuel ads, and climate news is routinely overshadowed by sports; in which entrepreneurs push incredibly risky tech solutions and billionaires sell the absurdist fantasy that humanity can just move to Mars.”

The reality is pretty glaring. We very likely won’t be moving to mars, and also we likely won’t be on the spaceship that takes all the rich people off the planet when it’s decimated. The majority of people will be the people left behind, and that should outrage people way more than it seems to. Something that we cover in our Unearth episode is the danger of fracking and the insistence of doubling down on fossil fuels despite their direct correlation with climate damage. Instead of seeking out new energy sources, there is this eerie and terrifying insistence on letting things remain how they are, with a blatant disregard for the fact that things how they are AREN’T FUCKING WORKING. The inconvenient truth is what has been shouted at us by scientists for years, by native populations for years, by climate activists for years, with the same level of shock and disgust when the urgency is laughed off by those in power. The problem I had with this film is while there were some initiatives to lead grassroots campaigns for change, they were honestly too passive. Possibly having to do with the short timeline of 6 months, but we have a more realistic timeline here. There isn't a giant space rock, but there is a necessity to move. There are people already on the ground MOVING, we need to support their efforts. Speaking of, I learned about a strike that is taking place March 25th from an organization called Fridays for Future. They have a lot of information on their website that I recommend checking out but the gist is “The catastrophic climate scenario that we are living in is the result of centuries of exploitation and oppression through colonialism, extractivism and capitalism, an essentially flawed socio-economic model which urgently needs to be replaced. A system where rich nations are responsible for 92% of global emissions, and the richest 1% of the world population are responsible for double the pollution produced by the poorest 50%. Guided by historical struggles and lived experiences, led by the most affected people and areas (MAPA), we are demanding climate reparations. MAPA includes all territories in the Global South (Africa, Latin America, Pacific Islands, etc.) as well as marginalized communities (BIPOC, women, LGBTQIA + people, etc.) that might live anywhere in the world.`` I recommend taking the trip to their website as there are lots of resources and next steps available.

Another group you can support that is on the ground doing the work is Honor the Earth, a Native led organization fighting pipelines. They have a website called Stop Line 3 and they provide some overview on their work. “The existing Line 3 is an Enbridge pipeline that ships crude oil from Alberta to Superior, Wisconsin. It spans northern Minnesota, crossing the Leech Lake and Fond du Lac reservations and the l855, 1854, and l842 treaty areas. And it is a ticking time bomb. It was built with defective steel in l96l, has had numerous ruptures and spills, and is running at half pressure because of severe corrosion. Instead of cleaning up this liability, Enbridge wants to simply abandon it in the ground forever, and cut a brand new energy corridor through our best lakes, wetlands, and wild rice beds, and the heart of Ojibwe treaty territory. They first proposed this new route for the Sandpiper pipeline in 2013, but years of fierce resistance in Minnesota drove them to cancel that project and buy a share of the Dakota Access pipeline instead.” These organizations are on the ground fighting for change, and they are just two of the many out there. I highly recommend doing your research and making sure you’re not just another passive bystander in the destruction of our planet. There are so many things that can be done in this ongoing fight, and there are calls to action and resources in our ways to help section that we strongly recommend checking out. Having a radical twitter is stressful, yes, but also like super validating that your perception of the state of the world is not some dystopian future being imagined in film, but as something that is real and actually happening.

If you wanna be really devastated by understanding the urgency we are facing I recommend checking out In it’s own right it’s a countdown much like we see in don’t look up. Instead of 6 months, we have 7 years to get our acts together according to the climate clock. This website lists actionable items that need to take to prevent the climate disaster from getting worse and honestly as horrifying as that number is it does kinda put everything into perspective.


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