Why the Best Movie of 2021 is Hated and Rejected
Spoiler: Don't Look Up
We ignore awful truths because they are painful. Instead we ingest pleasant fictions about reality.
We close our eyes when we are afraid and don’t know what to do about it.
It’s stupid. You don’t solve anything about the source of the fear. But you feel a little better because you don’t see the frightening thing any more.
‘Don’t Look Up’ elicits this reaction.
If you have not seen it, go see it now. It’s on Netflix.
Caveat before going further
I don’t believe this movie is perfect. I especially dislike the fact that it mixes realistic situations with over-the-top behaviour. This makes it easy to dismiss as silly or fantasy, when it is a commentary on the absurd state of our real world.
“Don’t Look Up” is a movie about a couple of obscure astronomers who discover a comet on a collision course with Earth. If it hits, everyone dies.
They try to warn the world. The response to their warning cycles through rejection, ignorance, derision, outrage, personal attacks, legal indictment, and more.
In the end, the comet hits and everyone dies. The apocalypse could have been prevented, but it was not because humanity could not get its act together to do the best it could do to stop it.
There is another known movie about apocalypse from interstellar collision: Armageddon from 1998. In that movies the world comes together for a space mission to deflect the asteroid. It goes well and the Earth is saved.
By comparison, in Don’t Look Up a similar mission is launched only to be cancelled because a Big Tech corporation wants to get the precious minerals in the comet. Instead they use untested technology to try to break up the comet and get the riches.
In Armageddon, the world is saved despite much poorer tech and resources at that time. In Don’t Look Up everyone dies.
The movie portrays the reaction to itself
Early in the movie the two scientists go on a TV news show to announce the comet. The hosts of the show refuse to acknowledge the threat, and skirt around the issue trying to give the impression everything is fine.
Exasperated, Kate Dibialsky (Jennifer Lawrence) starts screaming that everyone will die and they are insane for not acknowledging that a deadly comet is flying towards Earth.
As a consequence, viewers of the show lose interest and the Internet is flooded with mean comments and memes about her as a crazy hysteric.
In real life, this is how most people reacted to the movie itself.
It shows awful truths about the world and ourselves. This feels bad and scary.
We close our eyes by claiming it’s a bad movie to give ourselves permission to ignore it.
In the words of the Big Tech billionaire in the movie “You are a Lifestyle Idealist. You think you are motivated by beliefs. High, ethical beliefs. But you just run towards pleasure, and away from pain. Like a field mouse.”
6 Awful Truths that make this movie brilliant and unpleasant
We pay more attention to influencer social drama than important information.
In the movie it is the first appearance of the scientists on TV to tell the world about the impending apocalypse. Before them is a short interview with a pop start about her breakup (and then reconciliation) with her boyfriend.
Later an analysis by a media company shows many, many, many more people were engaged and paid attention to the pop start relationship drama than the news about the end of the world.
We are easily manipulated.
The comet and its trajectory are scientific facts in the movie. Yet most of the time there is constant controversy whether the comet actually exists, and whether it is a good thing or a bad thing. Tribalism and political rhetoric manipulate people.
We ignore truths we don’t like, especially if we cannot perceive them with our senses.
In the movie there is a critical switch in public perception from a feeling that the comet is not real, to being afraid of it. This happens when it becomes visible with the naked eye in the sky. This makes all the difference.
We cannot agree on reality
Even with the comet visible in the sky, it remains a debated topic in the movie. The world portrayed is one where everything is political and the truth is an identity statement instead of…the truth of reality.
Dr. Mindy from the movie expresses this feeling:
“And if we cannot agree at the bare minimum that a giant comet the size of Mount Everest hurtling its way towards planet Earth is not a f**king good thing, then what the hell happened to us? I mean, my God. How do we even talk to each other? What’ve done to ourselves? How do we fix it?”
We are (almost) powerless
The two astronomers discover the comet with six months to spare until it hits the Earth. Yet most of the movie is how they cannot get anything done about it.
First they are ignored by the president. Then they are ignored by the public.
Then the Government does take them seriously. The initial NASA mission in the movie to deviate the comet’s trajectory with atomic bombs might have been successful or not. We don’t know. The president aborted it at the behest of the billionaire who wanted to mine it for profit.
When the scientists start a movement and get people involved, it is ultimately futile. The Russian-Indian-Chinese space mission fails.
In the end, everything was decided by the president and the billionaire who funds her.
We seek pleasure and avoid pain, even if it kills us
This applies to both events in the movie, and rejecting it as a viewer.
In the movie, everybody dies because humanity did not do all it could to neutralize the threat.
In reality, we suffer because we ignore awful truths because they are painful. Instead we ingest pleasant fictions about reality. Lies that come back to harm us.
Denial - definition: the conscious refusal that painful facts exist. Britannica
Do the poor reviews of this movie show we are in denial about the sad reality of the world today?
Maybe. Maybe it is nothing more than the natural unconscious reaction to an awful reality that we don’t know how to change.
Maybe this movie will fail and suffer rejection not because it is too harsh or direct, but because it has no hope. There is no redeeming event, no way out. The movie presents depressing truths about life without offering any glimmer of a solution.
The ‘Happy Ever After’ ending is so popular not because it portrays life, but because it’s what we unconsciously need. Without it, it’s too bleak for our unconscious.
We could change the depressing reality from Don’t Look Up by finding the solution ourselves. In real life you have to build Happy Ever After.