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The Climate Change Allegory in Don’t Look Up

Updated: Jun 18, 2022

By Rosalyn Brady

May 2, 2022

UPDATED 12:00 PM EST




[Photo Credit: IMDb: Don’t Look Up [2021]]



In the 2021 movie Don’t Look Up, Leonardo DiCaprio plays Dr. Randall Mindy, an astronomy professor, and Jennifer Lawrence plays Kate Dibiasky, the astronomy doctoral candidate he is mentoring. During an observation session, the pair discovers a previously unknown comet that they calculate is on a collision course with Earth, and large enough to cause a mass extinction. Mindy and Dibiasky present their findings to U.S. President Janie Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, at the White House, but Orlean meets their findings with apathy and little media attention - until a scandal Orlean was involved in is exposed, and she must protect her reputation.


To generate positive publicity, Orlean devises a plan to strike the comet with nuclear weapons, diverting its path. This project launches successfully, but when Peter Isherwell, the billionaire CEO of fictional tech company BASH played by Mark Rylance, discovers that the comet contains large amounts of valuable ore. The project is canceled in favor of BASH’s proposal to break the comet apart and mine it after impact using technology that has not been reviewed by scientists, due to the comet’s economic value and potential to create comet-mining jobs. However, this project fails, and humanity is then doomed.


Unfortunately, this news is received in several different ways: some recognize that the comet is a serious threat, while others downplay the impending impact believing that mining the comet will generate jobs and have a positive economic effect, and still others deny the comet’s existence entirely. Mindy and Dibiasky, attempting to raise awareness about the comet, begin a “Just Look Up” social media campaign as the comet becomes visible in the sky, speaking out against comet denial. However, Orlean starts a “Don’t Look Up” social media campaign, trying to maintain comet denial and counter the Just Look Up campaign. Both campaigns receive seemingly equal following―that is, until the comet finally strikes.


If the reactions to the comet seem oddly familiar, it’s because this central conflict was chosen purposefully.


Don’t Look Up is an important allegory for the climate crisis we are currently facing. The characters of Mindy and Dibiasky represent the climate scientists, who have been investigating and predicting the effects of fossil fuels on Earth’s atmosphere since the Industrial Revolution in the 1800s, when fossil fuels first became prevalent. Since then, the predictions have only become more dire, with climate scientists’ findings indicating that fossil fuels will bring devastating warming, and with it rising sea levels and an increase in natural disasters such as hurricanes and an issue already happening today.


However, this research is still being ignored. Orlean and the ‘Don’t Look Up’ campaign supporters represent these climate deniers, who ignore the climate research and the evidence of climate change in the present and future just as the ‘Don’t Look Up’ supporters ignored the existence of the comet. Most of these climate deniers are those - civilian and corporation alike - who favor the job creation and economic development prospects created by fossil fuels over the transition to renewable energy necessary to preserve life on Earth. These fossil fuel corporations are represented by Isherwell and BASH, who plan to mine the comet due to its monetary value and ability to create jobs without regard for the comet’s effect, the way oil and gas companies plan new extraction projects without regard for the impact of climate change, both due to the potential for economic development and job creation. The supporters of the comet mining project and those of oil and gas extraction projects play a role that does not change between Don’t Look Up and reality, supporting the respective corporate-led comet mining and oil extraction projects around them due to their economic value and job creation potential.


Through its representation of all facets of the climate crisis, Don’t Look Up is a poignant, insightful allegory for humanity’s handling of the climate crisis―and, unfortunately, most crises that come our way.



References

Wikipedia contributors. “Don’t Look Up.” Wikipedia, 1 Apr. 2022, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_Look_Up.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Don%27t_Look_Up



Kaye, Don. “Don’t Look Up Ending Explained.” Den of Geek, 4 Jan. 2022, www.denofgeek.com/movies/dont-look-up-ending-explained/#:%7E:text=Why%20They%20Won’t%20Look%20Up&text=In%20response%2C%20Orlean%20launches%20her,deniers%20and%20anti%2Dvaxxers).

https://www.denofgeek.com/movies/dont-look-up-ending-explained/#:~:text=Why%20They%20Won't%20Look%20Up&text=In%20response%2C%20Orlean%20launches%20her,deniers%20and%20anti%2Dvaxxers).



“Global Warming Timeline.” American Institute of Physics, history.aip.org/climate/timeline.htm. Accessed 3 Apr. 2022.

https://history.aip.org/climate/timeline.htm





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