Nov 18, 2021 - Energy & Environment

A-list actors made the climate movie we deserve

Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence
Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence walk along the train platform next to an Acela train at South Station during filming of "Don't Look Up" on Dec. 1, 2020. Photo: David L. Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The upcoming Netflix film, “Don’t Look Up,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence, is ostensibly about the discovery of a “planet killer” comet hurtling toward Earth. But the film is clearly an allegory about climate change, as the climate world instantly realized when the Netflix trailer dropped Tuesday.

Why it matters: This is the most prominent climate change movie to be released since Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" in 2006, and it has the best cast ever assembled around this topic.

  • In addition to DiCaprio and Lawrence, there's also Cate Blanchett, Timothée Chalamet, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, Mark Rylance and Meryl Streep, to name a few.
  • This may also be the first climate change-related comedy, especially one with subversive elements to it.

Details: When astronomers DiCaprio and Lawrence inform the White House of the danger the comet poses to our planet, the president, played by Streep, offers her plan. Her line in the trailer sums up the attitude of world leaders, the media and the public regarding climate change for decades.

  • “At this exact moment I say we sit tight and assess,” she says.

Quick take: The Adam McKay-directed comedy shows the inability of scientists to get the media’s attention about an obviously alarming and existentially dangerous situation.

  • Whereas 2004's "The Day After Tomorrow" showed hero scientists battling against a cataclysmic event, this one promises to showcase ignorance, denial, craven greed, and suppression of science.
  • This is closer to a realistic portrayal of what has played out as society has grappled with climate change.

Quick take, part 2: I asked Axios space reporter Miriam Kramer for her thoughts on the film:

  • “This movie may look like 'Deep Impact' 2.0, but I think it’s going to end up being way more about climate than it is about space,” she said.
  • “The idea that politicians wouldn’t take astronomers seriously when they say a comet is hurtling toward Earth is ridiculous. So why isn’t it just as ridiculous for politicians to ignore decades of climate science?”

Between the lines: The movie also brings the U.S. government to a stage where getting rich off of the comet becomes an end in itself.

  • There are parallels to climate change here too, given the Biden administration’s focus on climate change as a job-generator, and the meteoric stock market growth seen recently for electric vehicle manufacturers.

Go deeper: Netflix Q&A with McKay, DiCaprio and Lawrence on the film's inspiration."Don’t Look Up" premieres in select theaters on Dec. 10, and arrives on Netflix Dec. 24.

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