Walter Williams on the Founding Fathers
As Americans celebrate Independence Day, there is renewed debate about the nature of that independence and of the men who declared it. The column below from the late Walter Williams…
It doesn’t require training in critical film studies to figure out that Netflix’s new movie, Don’t Look Up, which tells the story of a comet wiping out life on earth, isn’t really about a comet wiping out life on earth. It is a metaphor, and one about as subtle as a romantic clinch cutting away to stock footage of a steam train entering a tunnel.
The film’s main problem is that it just isn’t funny. The only time I laughed was when Jonah Hill’s character called Jennifer Lawrence’s character “Girl with the dragon tattoo,” but when the best gag in a satire about the end of the world is about someone’s haircut, you’re in trouble. There is nothing here in a comic universe even approaching the immortal line from Dr. Strangelove (another satire about the end of the world): “Gentlemen! You can’t fight in here, this is the war room!”
Indeed, Don’t Look Up manages the impressive feat of making the end of the world thoroughly boring, with an absence of a plot compounding the absence of laughs. Early on, Jennifer Lawrence’s character Kate Dibiasky, a PhD candidate in astronomy who detected the comet, goes on TV to warn people. The TV hosts are, however, obsessed with trivialities, leading Dibiasky to freak out and scream a warning direct to camera. Much (much) later in the movie, there is a scene where Leonardo DiCaprio’s character Dr. Randall Mindy, Dibiasky’s professor, goes on TV to warn people. The TV hosts are, however, obsessed with trivialities, leading Dr. Mindy to freak out and scream a warning direct to camera. It is the exact same scene. In fact, much of the movie is composed of variations on that one scene, repeated over and over again.
If this is the point — that no matter how often or how loudly scientists warn us about some impending threat, they are just ignored — it doesn’t work. On scientists’ say-so, policymakers across the world shut down economies and locked populations in their homes in response to COVID-19 — all to the accompaniment of dire warnings from the media. On scientists’ say-so, policymakers across the world have adopted policies to combat global warming, which have pushed energy costs to a level people increasingly struggle to afford — and, again, to the accompaniment of dire warnings from the media. If none of this is working, either to extinguish COVID-19 or to slow global warming, it isn’t because politicians and the media have ignored the warnings of scientists. The film is based on an entirely false premise.
Don’t Look Up‘s director, Adam McKay, is capable of producing very funny broad comedies, such as Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and The Other Guys, although the most recent of these is now nearly 12 years old. What he is not is an astute commentator on more serious aspects of American life. The Big Short was a failure that conveyed little useful or interesting information about the financial crisis; instead, it was McKay showing off how many famous people he could rope into his movie (Ooooh look, its Margot Robbie in a bathtub talking about collateralized debt obligations just because). There is more of that here (Ooooh look, its that guy from Dune just because). For the sake of McKay’s career, I find myself in the unusual situation of praying for a new Will Ferrell movie.
Don’t Look Up is a dud. Save yourself the time and don’t look at it.