The Strangely Beautiful Conclusion to Don't Look Up

Netflix’s New Film on Death & Catastrophe Ends with a Celebration of Life

The Netflix movie Don’t Look Up, directed by Adam McKay, is about an astronomy professor, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his doctoral student Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence) who discover a comet of catastrophic proportions heading straight toward planet Earth. Their data is clear. The comet is big enough to destroy the entire world and is set for direct impact in six months and fourteen days.

The film mainly focuses on the frustrated efforts of Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky to alert the government and general public about the comet and to call for immediate action. Meryl Streep plays the incompetent and narcissistic American president, Janie Orlean, who only heeds their warnings when she and her administration think it will boost her polling numbers.

But then Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), the CEO of a giant technology corporation called BASH, convinces the president to abort the mission to divert the comet away from Earth and to instead consider mining it for precious minerals. Meanwhile, Dr. Mindy and Dibiasky, along with a colleague from NASA, Dr. Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan), desperately try get the truth out in an age of fake news, conspiracy theories, and political greed.

Dr. Mindy himself doesn’t escape being corrupted by the allures of fame, political attention, and extramarital sex. A nervous man, unused to the limelight, he gets caught in the snares of powerful people who want to use him for their own gain, while also struggling to keep in touch with his convictions as a scientist, husband, and human being.

The film is an incisive and provocative critique on the shallow entertainment culture that has come to dominate mainstream American culture. From talk shows to internet memes to government bureaucracy, the terrifying truth of humanity’s impending doom is repeatedly denied, watered down, and politicized, until hardly anyone knows who to trust or what to believe.

At the height of his struggles with the president, BASH, and his own conflicted self, Dr. Mindy finally reaches the boiling point on live television. Featured on an insipid and superficial talk show called “The Daily Rip,” Dr. Mindy tries to calmly address the contradictory theories about the comet: “The comet is a good thing.” “There is no comet.” The hosts of the show tell him to “keep things light” and that joking “helps the medicine go down,” to which Mindy furiously explodes, seemingly out of the blue:

I’m sorry, but not everything needs to sound so pleasant, or charming, or likeable all the time. Sometimes, we need to be able to say things to one another. We need to hear things!

Look, let’s establish, once again, that there is a huge comet headed towards earth. And the reason we know there’s a comet is because we saw it. What other proof do we need?

And if we can’t all agree on the bare minimum that a giant comet the size of Mt. Everest hurtling its way towards planet Earth is not a [expletive] good thing, then what the hell happened to us? I mean, how do we even talk to each other? What have we done to ourselves? How do we fix it? [I’m] not on one side or the other. I’m just telling you the truth.”

Mindy’s tirade feels prophetic and incredibly timely for our own cultural moment, when it does seem that, as Americans, we are failing to find ways to agree on fundamental values, facts, and truths about our existence. When we all live in different worlds, espousing different ideologies and conflicting theories devoid of reason, truth, or nuance, there’s no way to talk to each other, as Dr. Mindy laments so furiously.

In the end, the film gives a meditation on life’s preciousness, and how even in the face of catastrophe, gratitude is the proper posture to take. If we come together in humility, we can agree that life is a gift, and one that’s given undeservedly.

At the end of the film, Dr. Mindy, along with his closest friends and family, reflect on their memories together and the gifts they’re especially thankful for. They do this while sharing a big meal together. They even spend time in prayer, after which Dr. Mindy says softly, “We really did have everything, didn’t we?”

I found the film strangely beautiful, somber, and timely. I hope those who take the time to watch it will be reminded, as I was, of the goodness and wonder of life, and to be thankful and responsible for the time we’ve been given.

Peter Biles is the author of Hillbilly Hymn and Keep and Other Stories. He graduated from Wheaton College in Illinois in 2019 and holds a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Seattle Pacific University. He has also written stories and essays for a variety of publications, including Plough, Dappled Things, The Gospel Coalition, Salvo, and Breaking Ground. He was born and raised in Ada, Oklahoma and is now Writer and Editor for Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture.

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