Don’t Look Up paints an unsettling portrait of humanity

This film is not intended for anyone under the age of 17 for some violence and inappropriate content.


Leah Allen '22

Mr. Adam McKay’s 2021 film underscores the world’s current environmental and political crises.

Joining in the grand tradition of media satirizing society’s woes, Don’t Look Up, directed by Mr. Adam McKay, conjured simultaneous laughter and fear from audiences, December 10 and December 24, 2021.  The plot follows two astronomers, Dr. Randall Mindy and Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D) candidate Kate Dibiasky as they attempt to warn humanity about a comet headed toward Earth.  Despite Don’t Look Up’s blunt, often comedic, social commentary and overarching theme of climate crisis, it is the film’s subtleties that send the most poignant message about racial and gender inequity and political polarization

Kate Dibiasky, Dr. Randall Mindy, and Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe deliver news about the comet’s impending collision with Earth.  Courtesy of

Don’t Look Up begins with Kate discovering a comet, subsequently named Comet Dibiasky.  Working with her professor Dr. Mindy, she maps out the comet’s orbital trajectory and learns that in approximately six months, the meteoroid will collide with Earth.  The pair travels to Washington, District of Columbia to inform the White House of humanity’s impending doom.  President Janie Orlean and her staff are dismissive of Dr. Mindy and Kate, ignoring their warning and ushering them from the Oval Office.  In collaboration with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe, Head of Planetary Defense, Kate and Dr. Mindy leak their discovery to the press.  Pandemonium, in various stages, ensues. 

The ongoing climate crisis and its lack of media coverage coupled with public denial inspired Mr. McKay to write and direct Don’t Look Up, according to  The film takes on numerous political issues with thinly veiled references to the Trump administration.  President Orlean mimics the former politician’s diction while sporting a red baseball hat tagged with the titular anti-comet slogan “Don’t Look Up!”  When pulled over by the police, Dr. Oglethorpe calms officers with a speech about the insignificance of their different skin tones, a scene intended to demonstrate dark humor but failing to properly explore the decades of tension between Black Americans and law enforcement.  Although these moments do carry political significance, the integration of comedy dulls their sharpness and trivializes serious subjects. 

That is not to say, however, that Don’t Look Up squanders all of its social commentary.  The film paints a nuanced picture of discrimination based on race and gender through Dr. Mindy, Kate, and Dr. Oglethorpe’s dynamic.  Dr. Mindy begins as an awkward but kind professor, quick to correct politicians and journalists who mistakenly credit him with the discovery of Comet Dibiasky.  But by the film’s halfway point, he leans into his recognition and public approval, accepting the role of Chief Science Advisor to the White House.  In a particularly stirring scene, Dr. Mindy obtains clearance for a government meeting while Kate and Dr. Oglethorpe remain markedly exiled despite their equal, if not greater, qualifications. 

Likewise, social media very quickly demonizes Kate after an emotional outburst on live television, making “memes” about her rather than heeding her warning.  The public paints Kate as mentally unstable for showing emotion, while Dr. Mindy, who is only slightly less distressed receives praise.  White House Chief of Staff Jason Orlean, repeatedly belittles and objectifies Kate, thanking her for “dressing up” at their first meeting and specially ordering the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to put a bag over her head during an arrest.  These instances remind audiences that even in the midst of an apocalyptic crisis, racism and sexism prevail. 

Director Adam McKay draws parallels between fictional President Janie Orlean and former President Donald J. Trump.  Courtesy of

Don’t Look Up is uniquely intertwined with the coronavirus pandemic.  Filming began in April 2020 and stretched until February 2021 in compliance with safety measures, according to  Editors even included a cut of the film’s masked crew to commemorate the odd filming circumstances.  Mr. McKay reflected on how the Don’t Look Up’s content mirrors the public reaction to the ongoing public health crisis and its politicization. 

“One of the strangest things was to see exact beats of the movie playing out,” Mr. McKay said, according to  “It is more than being prophetic, it just kind of shows how broken our governments are.  I have got to be honest, I never expected there to be people that just deny that [the virus] exists.”

The film has received mixed reviews with a score of 56 percent on Rotten Tomatoes, according to  Mr. David Rooney of The Hollywood Reporter notably argues that Don’t Look Up carries an undertone of smugness that furthers divisions between the liberal and conservative parties, according to  However, many agree that the film’s truly unique fusion of comedy and horrors distinguishes it as a one-of-a-kind cinematic experience.  Don’t Look Up has already won four awards and received nominations for 16 additional accolades, according to

Perhaps the most thought-provoking aspect of Don’t Look Up is the response it invokes from audiences.  The film’s closing scenes feature a final attempt to divert Comet Dibiasky.  The Orlean administration engineers this mission, leading audiences to root against it simply because the attempt’s success would mark a victory for the antagonists.  However, when the diversion mission does fail and Don’t Look Up’s final moments depict humanity’s extinction, audience members wonder why they hoped for failure and wish, somehow, for a happy ending. 

“I just think narrative is really powerful and, in some ways, maybe we all think as not only people but audience members that it is just going to work out,” Mr. McKay said, according to

So let us stop assuming that climate and political crises will resolve themselves and work to heal both our planet’s physical and societal ailments.  Instead of furthering divisions, let us promote reconciliation among adversaries and unity among global citizens.

Featured Image by Leah Allen ’22