Long time, no see! The omicron-diluted holidays are over, and normal life, such as it is, resumes.
I got my booster at 4pm on December 30, and spent most of New Year’s Eve in a pleasant, spacey fog (except for the hour or two when I had a fever and a bad chill), and fell asleep well before midnight, successfully ignoring drunk Andy Cohen and the ball dropping. I suspect most people either did not go out, or had modest, muted celebrations. Perhaps this tentative New Year’s Eve will make for a better year this time around? I hope so.
On Christmas, I received a gift from the universe in the form of a new movie by Adam McKay, Don’t Look Up, that suddenly populated my Netflix screen. McKay is a longtime comedy writer, one of the executive producers of Succession, the writer and director of The Big Short and Vice, and one of very few filmmakers whose movies I always want to see. He’s, like, the anti-Wes Anderson.
The plot: Two undistinguished astronomers discover a comet that will collide with Earth in six months, ending all life on the planet. But they can’t seem to get anyone interested in this near-absolute certainty. I’ve seen the film compared to Idiocracy and to Dr. Strangelove. Certainly it is a brilliant piece of satire.
One of the first things you notice about Don’t Look Up is that the story is by McKay and [checks notes] David Sirota. The latter was a senior advisor, speechwriter, and Twitter attack dog for the Bernie Sanders campaign—the 2019 version, when the fact that the Russians were openly helping Sanders was a matter of federal record. How involved Sirota was in the deployment of the “Bernie bots” I cannot say, but there is no question that in terms of below-the-belt tactics, the Bernie accounts were far nastier to this Twitter user than all of MAGA combined. Also, there’s this:
A number of folks on Twitter say they won’t watch the movie because Sirota was involved. So let me say up front: I could not detect his fingerprints here. His main contribution seems to be that there is no Bernie character in Don’t Look Up—no scene where Congress is voting on whether to launch a nuclear strike to divert the comet from ending all life on the planet, and a rumpled, white-haired, Soviet-boosting socialist announces that he won’t vote for the bill unless the federal minimum wage is raised to $15. Which would have been funny!
The point is, Sirota’s involvement didn’t matter. Not to me. I loved the movie. I watched it on Christmas with my wife, who loved it too, and again last night with my 15-year-old son, who also loved it. (That the cast includes Gen Z favorites Timothée Chalamet, Ariana Grande, and Scott Mescudi—aka Kid Cudi—made it an easy sell). I am surprised to see so many meh reviews. But then, not everyone has spent the last five years shouting from the rooftops, warning of a danger they saw and understood before almost anyone else—a danger most people still don’t grasp. In my world, the comet is Trump/ Trumpism/ death of democracy.
And now, I’m going to write about Don’t Look Up as if you’ve already seen it. So if you haven’t, please stop reading, and bookmark this for later.
Seriously: SPOILER ALERT below the photo.
Don’t Look Up, for me, can be distilled to a few important lines of dialogue:
“Look, let’s establish, once again, that there is a huge comet headed towards Earth. And the reason we know that there is a comet is because we saw it. We saw it with our own eyes using a telescope. I mean, for god sake, we took a fucking picture of it! What other proof do we need? And if we can’t all agree at the bare minimum that a giant comet the size of Mount Everest, hurtling its way towards planet Earth, is not a fucking good thing, then what the hell happened to us?”
Almost every review I’ve read of Don’t Look Up suggests that it’s about climate change. I’ve watched it twice, and this take honestly never occurred to me. It can certainly be read as a commentary on vaccines/covid. But for me, it’s about the Trump/GOP attack on our democracy—an incontrovertible fact that half the country (and most of the media) has don’t-look-upped into a both-sides political issue.
“You guys, the truth is way more depressing. They’re not even smart enough to be as evil as you’re giving them credit for.”
The banality of evil, yes, but also the banality of greed. Conspiracy theories melt away like so many wax candles, and all that’s left is a small confederacy of soulless, amoral ghouls, ready and willing for many people to suffer and die so they can add a few more nuggets of gold to their disgustingly large piles.
“There’s dope stuff, like material stuff, like sick apartments and watches, and cars, um, and clothes and shit that could all go away and I don’t wanna see that stuff go away. So I’m gonna say a prayer for that stuff. Amen.”
This is the prayer offered by Jonah Hill’s Jason Orlean, the president’s son and chief of staff, as the comet is about to hit. It’s played for laughs, but honestly, he’s on to something here. Consider: We’re all going to die someday. What we expect, when we go, is that the legacy of humanity will endure. The “stuff” that human beings have produced—vaccines, the Taj Mahal, Pet Sounds, Ford Mustangs, “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” the SNL “More Cowbell” sketch, and yes, sick apartments and watches—is our collective culture, our civilization. That no one would be left to appreciate any of this—that a lot of that, too, would be destroyed by the comet—would really bother me, if the scenario played out in real life. On the other hand, Keith Richards would still be around, so “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” would live forever.
“I’m grateful that we tried.”
This line, spoke by Jennifer Lawrence’s Kate at the last supper, really gets me. If democracy falls in the United States, if Trump escapes indictment and re-takes the White House, if jackbooted MAGA thugs round up all the dissidents and critics of the administration and drag me away kicking and screaming, this is what I will mutter under my breath.
“We really did have everything, didn’t we?”
The last thing Leonardo DiCaprio’s Randall says, at the same last supper, marveling at the world we made—a world that includes specialty coffee, the Four Kings of Harmony, and weapons so powerful that hurling them into space to destroy comets doesn’t seem like science fiction.
There’s so much good in the world. So much genius. So much hope. So much love.
All we have to do is look.
Photo credit: still shot from Don’t Look Up.