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The 2021 movie “Don't Look Up” begins when PhD student Kate DiBiasky, played by Jennifer Lawrence, discovers that a massive comet is about to hit Earth and destroy life on the planet. She brings the issue to the attention of her professor, lecturer at the University of Michigan, Dr. Randall Mindy, played by Leonardo DiCaprio.
Dr. Mindy, joined by his student and Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe, head of the Interplanetary Defense Coordination Office at NASA, went to the White House to report on the dangerous path of this comet that will wipe out the planet in six months and 14 days. Meanwhile, the NASA team is instructed to immediately take Dr. Monday, Kate and Dr. Teddy to Washington, D.C.; they are then taken to the plane’s garage and told it was the only plane traveling there.
In Washington, Oglethorpe, Mindy and his student meet with U.S. President Janie Orlean, played by Meryl Streep, to brief her in 20 minutes about the crisis that will befall the planet. However, they are faced with indifference to academic research that seems to have prevailed in the political and media landscapes.
At the Mindy family’s last dinner table, amid the absurdity and desolation, life on Earth ends, with the final scene of the movie ending, and the questions begin as to whether we are really living in a giant bubble of misinformation.
In a view of a reality very similar to the events of the film, we return to the speech delivered by environmental activist Greta Thunberg before the United Nations Assembly on the occasion of the International Summit on Climate Change in New York. In her statement, Greta said:
This is all wrong. I shouldn't be up here. I should be back in school on the other side of the ocean. Yet you all come to us young people for hope. How dare you! You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!
At that time, former U.S. President Donald Trump mocked her speech in a tweet he shared on Twitter at the time.
The similarities between Trump’s mockery of the reality of a major issue that threatens the population of the earth and the contempt of the American president in the fictional movie about the consequences of a devastating comet raise the question as to whether the American president imagined in the film is, in fact, a depiction of former President Donald Trump.
In the movie, the U.S. President’s exploitation of the issue to serve her election campaign can also be compared to Donald Trump’s approach to COVID-19. When he learned that the virus was highly transmissible and dangerous, he did not publicly endorse the scientific evidence backing the claim just because it was not profitable, according to one of Trump’s employees, Mark Meadows. In addition, three days before his presidential debate, Trump knew he was infected with COVID-19, yet he put many at risk and misled them just to continue his campaign.
The cinema plays a role in representing reality and the world in which we live. It also helps highlight the daily issues faced in our lives, prompting people in power to control the narrative. In 1940, the silent political comedy The Great Dictator by Charlie Chaplin was banned from showing in Germany. Perhaps the main reason is Charlie Chaplin’s accurate portrayal of the charged events that plagued German society at the time, especially since Hitler’s regime was distinguished by its misleading media machine.
Apart from the reasons why the film was banned in Germany, it can be said that “Don’t Look Up” is another embodiment of the power structure in the modern world. It is no longer exclusive to traditional forms of power and control, or “leviathan” as described by Thomas Hobbes, accompanied by a dictatorial regime like Hitler’s or monopolized in the state, as the German philosopher Karl Marx pointed out. Instead, it is embedded in the very fabric of society, which is not subject to one single force, as mentioned by French philosopher Michel Foucault. To take an example from the film itself, can today’s ‘new media’ be considered a new authority?
In the film, when the people realized the reality of what was going on, that is, the fact that the comet was heading toward Earth, they were divided into several groups. A group supported the “Don’t Look Up” campaign in conjunction with the election campaign of the U.S. President. Another group viewed the crisis as an entertaining trend discussed in a talk show. A third team supported the Peter’s BASH network, which embodies large corporate entities controlling much in our current world. In the film, Peter is the one financing the presidential campaign and the one trying to convince the public of the possibility of benefiting from the minerals he seeks to extract from the comet and eliminating poverty, unemployment, and beggary throughout the world.
The movie depicts a social media that is abuzz with conspiracy theories, one where PhD student Kate DiBiasky became a mere satirical hashtag consumed by the public and used by the White House and businessmen to cover up the scientific facts about the devastating comet.
The manipulation of scientific facts by the political and media authorities, and their disregard for the crisis reflects the reality of some political authorities in our real world. Who among us has not closely monitored the U.S. election campaigns in recent years? Who among us has not heard so many discourses that weaponize false information and misleading statements? Who among us has not witnessed the candidates exploiting the powerful to finance their electoral campaigns? This happened through various means, including hacking audience data, injecting misleading advertisements and inciting hatred, collecting information about the largest number of network users, and manipulating their minds through engineering algorithms, in addition to other means to make politicians’ and political parties’ electoral campaigns successful and reshape the psychology of crowds and audiences to serve political interests.
Comedian Adam MacKay ends the movie with the alien colorful creature called brontaroc eating the president, Janie Orlean. Perhaps, through this ending, the director wanted to alert the world to the danger of the “Trumpist phenomenon,” which showed utter disregard for climate problems and produced false and misleading content that was both trivial and naive.
This article is written by Nour Htiet
Translated by Ahmed N. A. Almassri