movie reviews

‘Don’t Look Up’: A film review by a climate advocate

John Leo C. Algo
‘Don’t Look Up’: A film review by a climate advocate
'As a climate campaigner, researcher, and journalist, I can say that I and my fellow advocates have either experienced or seen with our own eyes the realities depicted in the movie'

“We really did have everything, didn’t we?”

Humankind has been blessed with so much. We are surrounded by magnificent ecosystems and biodiversity, of which we must take care. We have the freedom to care more about why another superhero remake must be left off in cinemas over local movies than pay attention to more important matters. And we can also discuss about timely films like Don’t Look Up.

The star-studded movie featuring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence serves as a commentary to the climate crisis. But unlike similar disaster movies like Armageddon or Deep Impact, Don’t Look Up takes less of the melodramatic approach with heart-wrenching deaths and more of a satirical tone that does not shy away from criticizing authorities over their inaction.

As a climate campaigner, researcher, and journalist, I can say that I and my fellow advocates have either experienced or seen with our own eyes the realities depicted in the movie. 

We have seen leaders here in the Philippines or at global negotiations repeatedly fail to listen to scientific evidence about the urgency of addressing a potential catastrophe. We have been frustrated with how the mainstream Philippine media has failed to properly highlight environment-related issues unless they involve potential or actual casualties. We have been wary of corporations masquerading as saviors, but in truth are capitalizing on public fear and political self-interest to maximize their profits at the expense of almost everything else.

There certainly are scenes in this film that mirror real-life situations so well that they can be a bit unsettling. For instance, a scene of the character played by Meryl Streep announcing the plan to stop the incoming disaster calls to mind the G7 summit last June, where world leaders made insufficient pledges to address the climate crisis. The meeting even featured a fighter jet display, which is similar to the flashy backdrop of said movie segment.

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Don’t Look Up also presents insights into the value of properly communicating your intended message. The portrayal of scientists being doomsday prophets or poor talkers has become a cliché, but that does not mean it is not true. Furthermore, the movie effectively shows how governments, businesses, and the media distract the public from the real problem by emphasizing arguments that suit their own agenda. 

We see this with how Filipino traditional politicians avoid direct criticisms thrown at them by either personally attacking their opponents or doubling down on solving another issue. This practice will be on full display during the next few months as we enter the 2022 election campaign season. This is usually a good way for folks to assess someone’s character and viability for leadership, but if surveys are to be believed, our nation has sadly not reached that level of maturity. 

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We can also observe this today with the COVID-19 pandemic, when groups campaign against social distancing protocols, claiming it is a violation of their freedoms. However, as we enter the second year of this crisis with cases still high and more variants being discovered, it is clear that such discussions should be viewed as a matter of public health and safety. 

Given the current state of our world, can we really blame most people for not wanting to pay attention to these issues? In a crisis, some people seek more than just solutions; they crave distractions. 

Whether in this flick or in real life, we see people get more riled up on social media when a famous couple breaks up rather than with news about an obvious threat to their well-being. Some even choose to believe trolls and their false claims on the climate crisis as a mechanism to comfort themselves – ignorance by choice.

But just because this is the reality in which we live does not mean we have to accept it. Just because it has not happened to you does not mean it never happens. Otherwise, we will keep on missing the point.

What is the point?

This is the underlying problem with many of the critics’ reviews of Don’t Look Up, as currently seen online. Movie preferences depend on your standards, but there is a problem with the perspective that it presents the political and media inattention to the climate crisis in such a straightforward manner that it comes across as smug and condescending. 

Despite the severity of this global threat and the urgency to address it, there are still large sections of our society who either remain unaware or lack the proper understanding of the climate crisis. Saying that the film is condescending implies that it would offend certain groups with conflicting interests or agendas. 

But by doing so, these critics become the very people that its satirical tone targets to begin with. Don’t Look Up is a movie whose quality is subjective, and we would have different opinions on its acting, cinematography, and other artistic aspects. 

But its message is what makes it stand out. And that message is simple: we need to address the climate crisis. It is based not on theories and rumors, but on facts and experiences. We must demand better action from our governments, businesses, and the media. We must also do our part. There is no escaping what we must do. 

That is a point that is not up for debate anymore. If you still do not believe us or if you want to watch the film, please look it up. –

John Leo is the Deputy Executive Director for Programs and Campaigns of Living Laudato Si’ Philippines and a member of the interim Secretariat of Aksyon Klima Pilipinas. He is also an avid moviegoer.