Jazeela Sherif

Are we being lulled into the ‘and-they-lived-happily-ever-after’ fairy tale sleep inducer mode with all those mesmerizing digital inputs we consume from the social media, on an hourly basis? Stooped as we sit and walk gazing at our smart screens, rarely do we look up to see the reality around us. Used as a metaphor, ‘Don’t Look Up’- the recent blockbuster film stirs a plethora of disturbing truths about living in a fine bubble of coziness that can burst in a matter of moments. Reportedly, this is one of Netflix’s most popular films.

The invincible pandemic that has struck us is not relaxing its tentacles on humanity as yet. Clouds burst and fire rages in wild fury as nature struggles under human abuse. Don’t Look Up, written and directed by Adam McKay cannot be crazier in reminding us about the dangerous trip we are making towards an apocalyptic end if we ignore the warnings of the scientists and continue to withdraw into a virtual world of fantasies and hate-mongering.

The film takes a dig at, possibly, all narcissists, selfish politicians, and corporates who promote their own good under the guise of the welfare of people. Social media that insidiously divide the world into irrational echo chambers would shamelessly claim to be uniting the world and, surprisingly, the world is okay with it. The unholy alliance of politicians, tech-giants, and media, dancing to the whims of the ultimate controllers of global affairs is at the butt of the jokes in this dark comedy.

The entire script is a lampoon, and the characters are the caricatures of people we see in many contexts across the globe. Some of the conversations evoke laughter mainly on account of the public discourses of such personalities and their philosophies touted as part of their services to the world we have entrusted with them.

Don’t Look Up’s protagonists are Dr. Mindy, an astronomer, and Ms. Kate Dibiasky, a doctoral student. They come across a massive comet heading towards the Earth, which will hit the planet in about six months.

Both alert Janie Orlean, the lady President who is surrounded by opportunistic and dumb aides. Initially, a cynical Orlean administration rejects it is as a non-existential wild imagination of the scientists.  Eventually, the scientists succeed in grabbing the attention it deserved, thanks to a fluke opportunity – a sex scandal the President was involved in. She had to deflect public attention, and nothing like the news about a doomsday to do that.

A forceful interference in a news channel talk show puts the scientists in the limelight. Ms. Dibiasky goes hysterical during the show, as a consequence of which she becomes the cynosure of ridicule by the social media freaks. Dr. Mindy, the more accommodative of the duo, falls for positions offered by the President, but soon realizes the cesspool he has fallen into.

As plans to destroy the comet were gearing up, Isherwell, the CEO of BASH, an influential contributor to Ms. Orlean’s party proposes an advanced techno-economic model to reap the 42 trillion-dollar worth of minerals and rare earth the comet is carrying. His anathema to peer-reviewing of the idea, the abject scorn for scientific scrutiny, and the administration’s blind faith in its crony cannot be plain naiveté or lack of sophistication. Despair turns into hope instantly, aided with quick media blastoff on the fortunes the comet may bring in the form of business and employment. The general public is pushed into an ebullient mood. Are you already familiar with such promising stories?

No surprise that McKay’s story moves in predictable lines firing the crackers at the right turn of events. The familiarity of these premises is what contributes to the comic content.

The script is simply hilarious -all darts hitting the right targets often pitching the rightists against the leftists in amusing ways. Does it poke at the current anti-vaxxer protests amidst surging waves of COVID, or the denial of climate change?

The world at large may be already fatigued from recurring shows of idiocy and smugness over serious existential issues. We are almost certain about the likely political leanings on many such issues regardless of ideologies. Regular followers of global politics are fully aware of the manipulative media and the social media’s poor scruples that care only for unlimited profits.

Until the moment when comet Dibiasky becomes visible to the naked eye, different convictions were played out towards targeted ends by the respective stakeholders. How we will be divided even on a doomsday scenario is well illustrated by the two polarized campaigns- ‘Just look up ‘and ‘Don’t look up’ run by the Mindy-Dibiasky team and Orlean’s administration respectively.

At this point, we may wonder what the rest of the world is up to in averting a global disaster. Their plans led by the Russians seem foiled with an explosion at the Baikonur space station. We don’t know if it was a doctored story!

The allegorical use of comet, as an Armageddon, is thoughtful. It can be anything, an uncontrollable virus on the prowl (we have seen enough by now), a climatic change that can engulf the world in water or fire, the growing inequality leading to bloody revolutions, decay of democracy taking us back to savagery, shrinking of global control into a few – possibly devious hands, and so on.  These are invisible threats lurking not too far behind, and too complex to be demonstrated with a Tik Tok video or presented in a light-hearted coffee table show on a TV channel, sandwiched between a star-divorce discussion and a cookery show.

Finally, the ill-advised comet harvest mission fails and then the hitherto secretive plan B of the corporate-politician mastermind is rolled out without fail. A bunch of opportunists escapes to the nearest inhabitable planet. Affirming their faith in the divinely ultimate, Dr. Mindy and team chose to embrace their destiny as they shared their best moments on the earth with a memorable last supper.

In an amusingly comical way, Isherwell‘s data analytics and prediction of Ms. Orlean’s end also come true after 22,720 years when they rise from a cryogenic freeze to land on a beautiful planet.

Now, what would the last person left alive on the earth do, when everything is destroyed?  Post selfies? Two and a quarter hours of gripping storytelling does not end there. It does make some lasting impressions. Apart from producing giggles all the way, it does provide a vicarious satisfaction in exposing what we are and who we are governed by.

At the least, we should laugh at ourselves, for our lack of real progress in whichever way we look at it. And we can continue to be in a denial mode about a rather unholy constellation of power, technology, and business that would determine the future of life on earth for human beings.

(Note: All images are sourced from the official trailer of Don’t Look Up’, and are hereby acknowledged. Pictures help the readers to connect easily with the story hint and are used with the good intention of promoting the film. Objections, if any, from the owners of the productions, shall be communicated through the contact form, upon which the pictures used will be removed)

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