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Laramie Movie Scope:
Don't Look Up

A funny satire about science deniers

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by Robert Roten, Film Critic
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December 24, 2021 – I had to drive a long way to see this one, but it was worth it. I laughed a lot, and these days, I need all the laughs I can get. This is a funny satire about politics, science, greed, and nutty billionaires.

An astronomy graduate student, Kate Dibiasky (played by Jennifer Lawrence) discovers a large comet, and her instructor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) quickly calculates that it will hit the earth in six months, wiping out all life on earth. It is a “planet killer.”

The two are quickly flown to Washington, D.C., along with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan of “The United States vs. Billie Holiday”) who is the head of the Planetary Defense Coordination Office (a real government agency). They wait at the White House to meet with the president, Janie Orlean, but are told to come back the next day because the president (played by Meryl Streep) is dealing with a domestic scandal.

President Orlean, and her son, Jason (Jonah Hill of “Hail, Caesar!”) who is also the chief of staff, listen to the scientists the next day, but don't seem as concerned about the impending destruction of the United States, and the rest of the world, as they are about the scandal they are dealing with, and the upcoming mid-term elections. They tell the scientists to sit tight and shut up.

This doesn't sit well with the scientists, who decide to try to inform the public what is going on themselves, despite the president's order to keep it secret. This results in a series of misadventures with newspapers and junk TV news shows, where ratings are way more important than the truthfulness of the news.

Foremost among the junk news shows is one hosted by Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry) who trivialize the planet killer comet with happy talk and pop culture references. Brie is attracted to Dr. Mindy, however, and he becomes a frequent guest on the show. Dibiasky, however, freaks out on the show and becomes an object of scorn on the internet. She is not invited back.

The President changes her mind after a few weeks and decides to go ahead and save the planet, for purely political reasons. A large tech company, Bash, headed by slightly crazed billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance of “Bridge of Spies”) has a plan to use untested nanotechnology to break up the comet into pieces that can be recovered which contain extremely valuable minerals.

Since he is a major contributor to the President's campaign, she approves the plan, even though this risky plan, that has not been peer reviewed, is not favored by NASA or the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. Scientists favor a plan to use a massive nuclear strike to knock the comet off course.

Oglethorpe and Dibiasky immediately denounce Isherwell's plan as scientifically unsound, while the government tries to shut them up. Dr. Mindy, who by now is having an extramarital affair with talk show host Brie Evantee, sticks with Isherwell's plan until it becomes clear that it is too risky. Social media is filled with conspiracy theories and comet denials.

In most movies of this kind, “Armageddon” and “Deep Impact,” for instance, the nations of the world band together to stop the menace from outer space. Here, the world stays divided. Corruption and greed win out over the common good. The president, backed by Isherwell and other conservatives, mount a “Don't Look Up” campaign of denial, but eventually, the comet becomes a naked eye object, and its existence can no longer be denied. Panic and chaos ensue. The combined comedy of errors becomes increasingly outrageous.

The most obvious analogy with the science denial in this movie is denial of global warming. However, the satire in this movie also applies to the current Covid pandemic, where social media, corrupt politicians, corrupt news networks, conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine science denial have all combining to kill hundreds of thousands of people who need not die.

This movie benefits greatly from its very talented cast, with multiple Academy Award winning actors. Some complain that the satire in this movie is too obvious. Maybe it has to be. The satire in “Dr. Strangelove, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” (1964) was obvious too, and that's a comedy classic.

The people who need to see this movie won't see it, but those of us who don't need to see it will get a kick out of it. I did. It's sad, but I laughed a lot at the satire. Writer/director Adam McKay (“The Big Short”) doesn't just deliver a screenplay with a lot of insightful, funny satire, he also delivers big spectacles you might not expect from a satire. Stick around at the end, there are both mid-credits and post-credit scenes. This film rates an A.

Click here for links to places to buy or rent this movie in digital formats, or to buy the soundtrack, posters, books, even used videos, games, electronics and lots of other stuff (no extra charges apply). I suggest you shop at least two of these places before buying anything. Prices seem to vary continuously. For more information on this film, click on this link to The Internet Movie Database. Type in the name of the movie in the search box and press enter. You will be able to find background information on the film, the actors, and links to much more information.

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Copyright © 2021 Robert Roten. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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(If you e-mail me with a question about this or any other movie or review, please mention the name of the movie you are asking the question about, otherwise I may have no way of knowing which film you are referring to)

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Robert Roten can be reached via e-mail at dalek three zero one nine at gmail dot com [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]