As a Big Fan of Hollywood’s Red Tradition, I Was Sad to Be Disappointed by Don’t Look Up

The Iron Lady becomes Trump in Dont Look Up

The Iron Lady becomes Trump in Don’t Look Up. Netflix

Here are the problems with Netflix’s Don’t Look Up, a movie that stars lots of stars. One, it fails to find the right balance between comedy and disaster in the brilliant way of, say, Stanley Kubrick’s only masterpiece Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb. (Kubrick really only made two worthy films, the second being The Killing.) Once again, the path to the world’s end is paved by the absurd. But Don’t Look Up does not, to use the words of Michelle Obama, go high; it goes too low. Though an extinction-level comet is heading straight to Earth, Americans can’t unplug from social media and consuming the lives of the rich and famous.

Two: The president, played by Meryl Streep, is clearly Donald Trump, and the president’s son, played by Jonah Hill, is a concentration of Eric, Jr., and Ivanka. But making fun of a president who was (and still is, and will continue to be) an unrepentant buffoon is of a grade of comedy that’s even less uninspiring than this sorry business of shooting fish in a barrel. And, besides, Trump’s brand of lunacy is put in the shade by that of Kubrick’s Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper. Few outright laughs can be got from the real cra-cra.

Three: Don’t Look Up, which is directed by the Hollywood lefty Adam McKay, fails to tell the American audience something it doesn’t already know. This was not the case with McKay’s The Big Short, which impressively translated the complexities of haute finance into the consumable chunks of American common sense. Indeed, The Big Short is probably only second to Wall Street in the cinema of high finance. Though most Americans have no idea what a collateralized debt obligation (CDO) is, they do know everything about the culture and trends of social media. Don’t Look Up spends an inordinate amount of its time mocking a web phenomenon that’s ubiquitous and requires very little effort to explain, virality.

Four: The film falls into its own trap. It wants to catch capitalism, but it catches itself. It wants to say: Capitalism brought the world to an end, but, at the same time, it forgets the lesson made famous by America’s most prominent Marxist, Fredric Jameson: “[I]t is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.”

And so [SPOILER ALERT], the world does come to an end in Don’t Look Up, but this only makes the film believable (not the farce it thinks it is). Capitalism can’t be stopped. And life after this economic system is simply unimaginable. What we see in the film’s plot is the complete failure to challenge the present state of things, which the Iron Lady called “TINA.” (It is interesting that Meryl Streep, who plays Trump in Don’t Look Up, played Margaret Thatcher in The Iron Lady.)

But is there anything of value in this Netflix film? There is just one thing. It’s found in the character played by Mark Rylance (Peter Isherwell), a tech billionaire cut from the same cloth as Bezos, Musk, and Jobs. Isherwell is, of course, as phony as Elizabeth Holmes, but Rylance manages to transport him to a region of bonkers that’s not at all funny but truly chilling. That’s the region of Jack D. Ripper. In this sense, Rylance has made a considerable contribution to the cinema of the tech billionaire, whose growing hall of fame includes Space Sweepers‘ James Sullivan (Richard Armitage).

There is nothing like a soul in Isherwell’s personality. Inside, he is as cold as the cloud of ice rocks, the Oort Cloud, that the movie’s world-killing comet calls home.

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