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Don't Look Up

Orlean: “I wrote that!”
Kate Dibiasky: “Isn’t that from Saving Private Ryan?”
A reminder of the many things a previous presidential administration tried to claim as their own.

Movie description: "Two low-level astronomers must go on a giant media tour to warn mankind of an approaching comet that will destroy planet Earth."

A movie that is very much by the numbers, but which is still an effective political satire.

Don’t Look Up managed to snag an all-star cast. It has five Oscar winners (Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence, Cate Blanchett, Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance and two Oscar nominees (Timothée Chalamet and Jonah Hill). Oh, and Ariane Grande singing (gosh, she’s good)! I expect one reason it attracted so much talent is because of the slant of the subject.

To understand this movie you have to appreciate it was supposed to come out in 2020, during the presidential election season, but the pandemic postponed things. It is a harsh satire on the greed and willful ignorance of the Trump administration. Or maybe it’s not even satire, as there’s so little subtlety. So many bits remind us of those days, from the hats worn by President Orlean to the nepotism by having her son take the powerful position of chief of staff. In this case, the sexual admiration goes the other way: instead of Donald Trump making inappropriate comments about his daughter Ivanka, Jason Orlean talks about the hotness of his mother.

Anyway, let's pay some attention to the plot. It opens with Michigan State students and a professor discovering a comet hurtling straight towards Earth. It’s nice not to have elites from Harvard or CalTech make the discovery but this makes it harder for those in power to accept their conclusions.

Meryl Streep plays President Orlean. She is sassy and brassy and you can understand why she would appeal to so many. For example, smoking. Stupid, yes, bad for you, yes, but if she wants to do it, it’s certainly not against the law. Don't we all have some bad habits and aren't we all tired of being told to correct them? And of course, the presidency is constantly confronted by crises, all claiming to be the end of the world as they know it. Still, a comet hurtling toward Earth ought to get top priority. However, Orlean only gives complete attention to the matter when she's trying to distract from another scandal (another throwback to the previous administration).

Another player is Peter Isherwell, the CEO of the phone company BASH. Isherwell represents the class of all disgustingly rich guys who have too much control of the world, having built his fortune on algorithms that can predict everything, such as whether you are happy or sad. One of the funnier algorithms predicts how people will die, with “96.5%” accuracy. This is so obviously a play on the many algorithms being used by so many to manipulate us into behaving how they want us to behave. Isherwell gives predictions for the circumstances of two deaths: one is surprisingly correct; the other, however, does not come true.

We can’t forget the media, another huge player in the current environment. The media is mostly represented by Brie (what a great name) who becomes attracted to the Michigan State professor. I did not understand her attraction. Costume and makeup managed to make DiCaprio unattractive, and I don’t think they managed to bring him back to his usual sexiness. But perhaps Brie is bored.

Don't Look Up is not much of a plug for democracy, but the previous administration was a kleptocracy, in which greed prevailed. Nor is it a plug for other types of regimes, as other devices explode on the platform (perhaps sabotaged by BASH?). It's not much a plug for humanity, either, as so many of them refuse to look up (makes me think of the anti-vaxxers).

Make sure you watch the credits, as you will find two treats among them.

Title musings. “Don’t Look Up” is the title of the movie, and it refers to the tendency that too many people have to ignore reality and what is before their eyes. Don’t believe your lying eyes, and instead embrace ignorance! Be proud of stupidity!

Bits and pieces

Jennifer Lawrence filmed most of her scenes with a broken tooth; due to restrictions in place during the Covid-19 pandemic, she could not get it fixed. The missing tooth was added post production.

In our first glimpse of the Oval Office we see a portrait of Richard Nixon. As sitting presidents tend to decorate the Oval Office with their favorite presidents for inspiration, a good sign that President Orlean admires corruption.

I have never seen Leonardo di Caprio look so unattractive, but they managed it here, turning him into a humdrum professor. Can you go the other way and take a humdrum professor and give him the appearance of a movie star?

There is such a thing as the Planetary Defense Coordination Office. It's a department of NASA.

I liked how Kate Dibiasky decides her best course of action is to get high. It appears that many of the characters indulge in better moods through chemistry. How come my only drug of choice is caffeine?

My guess on why the creators chose the name Orlean for the president: or is the French word for gold, while léan is a French word for ocean. Golden ocean. It could be a reminder of the golden shower associated with Trump.

I always feel good when I get inappropriate spam or ads. The algorithms are not working on me! Or – maybe they include those in order to trick me into believing I still have free will! Oh, noes!

A physicist (OK, my husband) believes that it would be almost impossible to predict with nearly 100% accuracy so many days out if it comes from the Oort cloud. And even I could see that there’s no way Dr. Mindy could perform all the necessary calculations on a whiteboard, considering that the comet would have to go through the many items in the asteroid belt.

Brie, so blonde and such a bit of cheese (brie!) makes me think of Laura Ingraham. At any rate, Brie went to Dartmouth the way Laura Ingraham did.

How appropriate, that President Orlean forgets her son while Jason is literally calling for his mother.

Bronteroc – "bront" is thunder and "roc" is a fabulous bird. So a thunderbird, even though Isherwell didn’t know what it is when he first heard about it.

I have to wonder why people weren't making more of an effort to survive. Like assembling many canned goods, water, and tanks of oxygen and going into some mine to wait it out.


Dr. Mindy: This’ll be fun. I haven’t done orbital dynamics since grad school! The question is, what would Carl Sagan do? He would take it back to first principles.

Kate Dibiasky: Why does the ephemerus keep getting lower and lower?

Jocelyn Calder: You pulled me out of a meeting where I had to explain to my staff why our department lost eight billion dollars in funding.
Note this shows how this political administration is anti-science.

Dr. Mindy: Isn’t that an extinction-level event?

Kate Dibiasky: He charged us for the snacks, even though they’re free.

Dr. Oglethorpe: Madam President, this comet is what we call a planet-killer.

President Orlean: Okay, at this very moment I say we sit tight and assess.

President Orlean: Do you know how many “the world is ending” meetings we’ve had over the years?

Dr. Oglethorpe: You’re just telling a story. Keep it simple. No math.

Dr. Mindy: What does that mean, I need media training?

Kate Dibiasky: You’re going to die! You’re going to die! You’re going to die!

Kate Dibiasky: They found a bunch of gold and diamonds and rare shit on the comet, so they’re going to let it hit the planet in order to make a bunch of rich people even more disgustingly rich.

Jason Orlean: I also want to give a prayer for stuff.

Jason Orlean: She’s coming back. She’s coming back.

Dr Mindy: When you think about it, we really did have everything, didn’t we?

Overall Rating

Don’t Look Up, although meant for 2020, works well in 2021 when we are dealing with anti-vaxxers and climate deniers. Four out of four Bronterocs.

Victoria Grossack loves math, birds, Greek mythology, Jane Austen and great storytelling in many forms.


  1. I also thoroughly enjoyed this movie despite the somewhat mediocre reviews it's been getting.

    I would say, though, that your Overall Rating paragraph puts you firmly in the #dontlookup group when it comes to the current looming catastrophe.

  2. The rating is based on how well I feel the movie achieves its artistic purpose.

  3. I watched this one on Christmas night, and laughed through the whole thing. It's wonderful.

    At first, I was expecting something like Deep Impact, but of course it's not sci-fi; it's a terrific piece of satire of the previous administration. It feels like it could have happened. Almost.

    Yeah. How did they manage to make Leonardo so unattractive? :) I kept thinking of that, too.

    Thanks so much for reviewing this one, Victoria.

  4. I've enjoyed this one so much, and laughed quite a bit. It was a bit uncomfortable to watch though because it hits too close to home. Great review for a film that should get more attention.

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Great review, Vicky. The movie helps us to laugh at ourselves. Laughing at what is going on may help us to be more relaxed and think better about how to deal with it. Relieve tension enough to alleviate panic, but still take it seriously enough to pay attention, i.e., do look up.

  7. Great review of what should be a more praised effort. The film is certainly worth a look for its very accurate assessment of the trump fiasco. Will anyone ever be shocked again? The Trump administration often turned a blind eye to reality, preferring to collapse into the myopic void of the reassuring cocoon of wealth as religion. The send up is well executed.

    Elsewhere the film deftly illuminates the vacuous netherworld of social media, precisely depicting the destruction of what culture we had thus replaced by illiterate, mean spirited, shallow and humorless cretins. The implication here is that the damage done by these networks is complete and irreversible...and yes I agree. For this take down of SM alone the film deserves a vid me droogs.


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