How would you react if you heard a comet will collide with Earth? In the new film Don’t Look Up, the answer was denial and apathy. Quite a change of pace from the panicked and despairing tone of most disaster films. However, it captures the current climate where every issue is politicized and hard facts do little to change people’s minds. (Yes, really. Many studies have found that facts don’t change beliefs.) 
Don’t Look Up follows two scientists, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, who discover that a giant comet will collide with Earth. They have six months to warn everyone about the upcoming catastrophe that will wipe out humankind. However, the president, the media, and the general population don’t pay much heed to their warnings.
The Inspiration for Don’t Look Up
Writer, director, and producer Adam McKay intended the film to be a criticism of the response (or lack thereof) to the climate crisis.
“This movie came from my burgeoning terror about the climate crisis and the fact that we live in a society that tends to place it as the fourth or fifth news story, or in some cases even deny that it’s happening, and how horrifying that is, but at the same time preposterously funny,” he explains in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. 
However, many viewers see the comet as an allegory to the Covid-19 pandemic, and that interpretation holds up as well. It also involves the science community being frustrated with people who won’t listen to their data, political figures using the crisis to further their agenda, as well as millionaires exploiting it to make bank. 
DiCaprio is also a passionate climate change campaigner and he was thrilled to join this film.
“I was just thankful to play a character who is solely based on so many of the people that I’ve met from the scientific community and, in particular, climate scientists who’ve been trying to communicate the urgency of this issue and feeling like they’re subjected to the last page on the newspaper.”
He continued, “But I also love the way he [McKay] was just incredibly truthful about how we’re so immensely distracted from the truth nowadays. And then, of course, Covid hit and there was a whole new scientific argument going on there. It’s just such an important film to be a part of at this particular time.”
Lawrence added, “It’s just so sad and frustrating to watch people who have dedicated their lives to learning the truth be turned away because people don’t like what the truth has to say.” 
Read: “Humankind is greedy, stupid and the greatest threat to Earth,” – Stephen Hawking
It’s So Horrifying That It’s Funny
The film is unique for its comedy alongside existentialism. While the scenario feels outlandish and implausible, there are moments that may feel a little too real. And these moments may differ from person to person. As Justin Chang wrote in his review in the Los Angeles Times, “Nothing about the foolishness and outrageousness of what the movie shows us—no matter how virtuosically sliced and diced by McKay’s characteristically jittery editor, Hank Corwin—can really compete with the horrors of our real-world American idiocracy.” 
However, the heavy-handed theme and delivery have put off some viewers, leading to the film’s mixed reviews. Even so, McKay wanted the audience to enjoy the experience, no matter their political ideation. “The big thing was that we wanted to make it funny,” he said in an interview with Chicago Sun Times.
“I would see the crowd laughing through the whole movie and then I would look at the cards [at test screenings], and it almost seemed to defy people who would identify as conservative, liberal and that was very heartening to me. There was always going to be a couple of people that are mad about something.” 
Read: Doomsday Clock Declares We Are 100 Seconds Away From Destruction
The Psychology of Climate Change Denial
Despite 99% of climate scientists agreeing that climate change is caused by human influence, people still deny this.  According to some psychologists, deceptive or erroneous information about it is part of the problem. Especially when it confirms already existing beliefs.
“But you’re also getting a lot of misinformation, what we call agnotology — misleading information and false information — from vested interests,” said Michael Ranney, professor of education at the University of California, Berkeley’s Department of Psychology. “And the internet, for decades, has been offering information that is misleading.”
In Don’t Look Up, people following misinformation are well-featured. However, when these characters finally see the comet, it’s actually sad to see them realize they have been misled by leaders with their own agendas. There are also motivations to refuse to acknowledge climate change, such as an unwillingness for government interference or further taxation or livelihoods that depend on industries such as oil.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom
Furthermore, Ranney states that it’s important to feel empowered not overwhelmed. Especially when communicating information about the issue. “It’s going to become more and more obvious to everyone that global warming is occurring and that it’s scary and yet something that we can fix, and should,” he said. “This is not a time to be passive and allow this calamity to happen to us. We can fix this, and we can fix this now.” 
- “Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds.” The New Yorker. Elizabeth Kolbert. February 19, 2017
- “‘Don’t Look Up’ Cast Breaks Down Their New Netflix Comedy. Youtube. Entertainment Weekly. December 16, 2021
- “How billionaires saw their net worth increase by half a trillion dollars during the pandemic.” Business Insider. Hiatt Woods. October 30, 2020
- “Leonardo DiCaprio: Don’t Look Up is important film for this particular time.” Yahoo News. Kerri-Ann Roper. December 26, 2021
- “Review: ‘Don’t Look Up,’ but there’s a scattershot satire headed your way on Netflix.” LA Times. Justin Chang. December 7, 2021
- “DiCaprio says end-of-the-world comedy ‘Don’t Look Up’ amplifies warnings about climate change.” Chicago Sun Times. Lindsey Bahr. January 2, 2022
- “Greater than 99% consensus on human caused climate change in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.” IOP Publishing. Mark Lynas, Benjamin Z Houlton, Simon Perry. October 19, 2021
- “The psychology of climate change: Why people deny the evidence.” CBC. Nicole Mortillaro. December 2, 2018