‘Don’t Look Up’ Peddles Climate Catastrophism as a Morality Tale

Adam McKay’s allegory of climate change revels in a misguided understanding of science.

‘Don’t Look Up’ Peddles Climate Catastrophism as a Morality Tale
Jonah Hill, left, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep and Jennifer Lawrence in the movie “Don’t Look Up.”(Niko Tavernise / Netflix)

Don’t Look Up is the latest film from polemicist Adam McKay, director of Vice and, most famously, The Big Short, an Oscar-winning dramatization of the 2008 financial crisis. It’s McKay’s attempt to tell, as he describes it, “the biggest story in 66 million years”—the story of climate change, science denial, and the dynamics that prevent societies from confronting existential challenges. If McKay and co-scriptwriter David Sirota intended to flatter the sensibilities of their fellow green progressives, it appears they hit their mark. The film has received glowing reviews from the climate commentariat.

Unfortunately, for a film that highlights the issue of science denial around climate change, the movie so radically warps the basic science of climate risk that it ceases to make any credible commentary on climate change at all. It offers catharsis for its mainly Western, privileged audience by letting its heroes scream their frustrations into the camera and doling out brutal punishment to science-denying villains. But the film makes no attempt to interrogate why the challenge of climate change is so befuddling to human societies—or why people who aren’t like McKay or Sirota might legitimately think differently about the very real but complex risks of climate change and the contested technological, economic, and social solutions.

The film takes its title from the political slogan of its fictional U.S. president, Janie Orlean. Portrayed by Meryl Streep, the character is clearly meant to caricature Donald Trump. Orlean personifies the denialist, bidding her supporters not to look up at the comet hurtling toward Earth and threatening to extinguish all life on the planet. By this point, she has sidelined scientists Kate Dibiasky and Randall Mindy (played by Jennifer Lawrence and real-life climate advocate Leonardo DiCaprio), who discovered the comet and spend the film desperately trying to get people to take the danger seriously. Orlean has chosen a strategy of “comet denial” at the prodding of Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), a tech industry plutocrat who hopes to mine the comet’s precious minerals for his company’s mobile phone production.

McKay’s message is unmistakable: The comet is climate change...

Read the full piece on Foreign Policy.