Don’t Just Watch: Team Behind ‘Don’t Look Up’ Urges Climate Action

Don’t Look Up is a rare Hollywood movie on many fronts. It’s an important film about climate change. It racked up a record number of watched hours in a single week, according to Netflix. It also unleashed a flood of hot shots, along with – in what might be a first – sniping between reviewers who didn’t like the movie and the scientists who did.

What remains is whether the film fulfills the primary goal of its director, Adam McKay, who wants it to be, in his words, a “kick in the pants” that drives urgent action on climate change.

“I have no illusion that a single movie would be the antidote to the climate crisis,” McKay, whose previous films have included “The Big Short” and “Vice,” wrote in an email to The Times. “But if it inspires conversation and critical thinking and makes people less tolerant of inaction on the part of their leaders, I’d say we’ve accomplished our goal.”

In Don’t Look Up, a planet-killing comet rushing toward Earth stands as a metaphor for the climate crisis, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence playing distraught scientists scrambling to persuade politicians to act, and the public to believe them.

After the film premiered in December, climate scientists took to social media and wrote opinion pieces, saying they felt they had finally seen. Neil deGrasse Tyson chirp It looked like a documentary. Many fans likened the film to “A Humble Proposition,” an 18th-century satirical essay by Jonathan Swift.

Meanwhile, Naysayers said the comet story was lost on whoever took it literally, and wondered why Mr. McKay hadn’t been clearer about global warming. Writing in The New Yorker, Richard Brody writes that if scientists don’t like what film critics are saying about science, “scientists should stop interfering with art.”

Either way, as leaders fail to take action to deal with the emergency on the planet and the scale and ferocity of so-called “natural” disasters reach their climax further, there is no doubt that the film was a huge hit. big nerve. According to Netflix, which self-proclaims its characters and was the studio behind the film and its distributor, the film is one of its most popular films of all time, garnering an unprecedented 152 million watch hours in one week.

said Genevieve Gunther, founder and director of End Climate Silence, an organization that promotes media coverage of climate change.

“You can’t have films that inspire people to act without a cultural acceptance of climate change, and that’s what this film will help produce,” she added.

Hollywood has had a varying history of depicting climate change in feature films, if it ever addresses it. Some movies have made their villains environmental terrorists – see Thanos in “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Godzilla: King of Monsters”. Or they present environmental collapse as inevitable – as in the films “Interstellar”, “Snowpiercer” and Mad Max. Rare is the film that imagines a world in which humans are successfully working together to calm the worst of a crisis, conserve biodiversity and wean themselves off fossil fuels.

While “Don’t Look” doesn’t offer a happy ending either, Mr. McKay has emphasized time and time again that he wants people to work towards that end. Netflix and climate scientists have partnered with an online platform that lists ways people can take action. One of the film’s stars, Jonah Hill, appeared on The Tonight Show and encouraged viewers to demand their representatives in Congress pass HR 794, the climate emergency law. DiCaprio urged his 19.4 million Twitter followers to get involved.

“We have the science,” Mr. Mackay said on “The Daily Poster,” a website run by David Sirota, a journalist and writer on the film. “We can do it. We have renewable energy. We can invest in decarbonization. There are so many things we can do if we have the action, the will and the awareness.”

Hollywood has played a role in defining the big issues before. Stanley Kubrick’s satirical “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb”—itself hated at the time by some critics—and shaped the “China Syndrome” attitudes about nuclear power and war. After watching the 1983 TV movie “The Day After,” which imagined the aftermath of a Cold War atomic battle, President Ronald Reagan wrote in his diary that the film left him “deeply depressed” and stressed his determination “to see that there will never be a nuclear war.” In 2012, while discussing his support for marriage equality, Vice President Joe Biden credited the TV series “Will & Grace” for educating the public.

However, Michael Svoboda, a writing professor at George Washington University and contributor to the web magazine Yale Climate Connections, said that while Mr. McKay was clearly enthusiastic about climate change, he was skeptical whether the film provided a useful message that would lead to consequences.

Are people being asked to become more involved in politics? Is he trying to get through the driveway? “It doesn’t seem to be the case at all,” said Mr. Svoboda. “Does she create a kind of fatalism, even nihilism, by virtue of her people’s acceptance of inevitability after a good but not particularly good fight?”

While Don’t Look Up took shots at both liberal elites and members of the right, Mr. Svoboda noted that by the end of the film he was clearly mocking Trumpian populism. “It’s not likely to reach anyone who is skeptical of climate change,” he said.

All told, the enthusiastic responses to the film point to a hunger for more climate content, said Ayanna Elizabeth Johnson, marine biologist and co-founder of the Urban Oceans Lab think-tank. This can reduce pressure on one part of the job to be all things to all people.

“I wouldn’t argue whether one movie is perfect,” said Dr. Johnson, “but clearly we need a lot of these things.”

“Some people are inspired by the horrible scientific projections,” she continued. “Some are inspired by the solutions. And some are inspired by the focus on a movie that points to the absurdity of the fact that we are destroying one planet on which it makes sense for humans to live.”

Dr Johnson added that she hopes the popularity of “Don’t Look Up” will prompt Hollywood to produce more climate-focused films. “If you don’t like it, make a better one,” she said. “I will watch it.”

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