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Don’t Look Up – Prophetic or Pathetic? CT

This weeks article in Christian Today 

*Spoiler alert: This article contains details of the plot and ending to the movie ‘Don’t Look Up’.*

There was a time when comedians got lots of laughs mocking the religious eccentrics who stood at street corners with sandwich boards proclaiming ‘the end of the world is nigh’. Not anymore.

Now such catastrophism has gone mainstream – or at least Hollywood. It’s not just the end of the world disaster movies – but the fact that we are supposed to take them seriously. Hollywood is preaching to us – with all the subtilty of a flying mallet.

Netflix’s latest ‘blockbuster’ movie is a prime example. Don’t Look Up, despite being a flop in cinemas, is one of the most viewed films on Netflix and has been garnering a lot of column inches in the press.

Sadly reviews, like so much else in our society, have been politicised. If you agree with the point being made in the film/sermon, then you will love it. If you disagree then you will hate it. But Don’t Look Up is also fascinating from a Christian perspective.

Let’s start with the good. This is a well-made movie, with some decent performances from Leonardo DiCaprio as the scientist who can save the world, and Meryl Streep as the Trumpesque President who dooms it. It is meant to be humorous and sometimes it is.

There are also interesting if exaggerated perspectives on the role of celebrity media, big tech and the human propensity in the face of disaster to ignore reality and turn to false idols instead.

From a Christian perspective there is one scene in which, without a hint of satire, the doomed humans turn to prayer. The troubled teen who was ‘raised evangelical, but found his own way’ volunteers to pray as the world is about to end. It is far too beautiful a prayer for such a satirical and dumbed down movie.

Because despite the good, this is one of the dumbest and most inane films I have seen in a long time. Don’t Look Up reminds me of the worst kind of Christian movie, where the actors seem to be deliberately ham acting the most cliched Christian characters they can find, and the plot reads as though it came from a Jehovah’s Witness children’s magazine!

The Plot

It would be difficult for me to spoil the plot, because if you haven’t gathered what the whole film sermon is about after five minutes, I despair. But if you want to put yourself through the two hours and 25 minutes of torment, don’t read the next few paragraphs.

The simple plot is that Earth is threatened by an approaching comet which two scientists try to warn the US president about. The president is more concerned about her poll ratings and seeks to deflect away from the approaching reality.

Evil money grabbing capitalists (including a big tech zillionaire) see the comet as an opportunity to do some mining for precious minerals; ordinary people are more interested in celebrity gossip on their mobile phones; TV hosts are dumbed down, inane and self-obsessed; the FBI are clowns; and we even have a racist, homophobic space pilot.

Of course, the earth is destroyed – but at least 2,000 people escape and take a 27,000-year flight to another planet, where, as the elect emerge from their cryogenic sleep, naked into their new paradise, the president is eaten by a dinosaur.

The Sermon

The purpose of the sermon is clear. Adam McKay, the writer, director and producer leaves us in no doubt: “This movie came from my burgeoning terror about the climate crisis and the fact that we live in a society that tends to place it as the fourth or fifth news story, or in some cases even deny that it’s happening, and how horrifying that is, but at the same time preposterously funny.”

The entertainment value, acting, cinematography is one issue. But what is most revealing about Don’t Look Up is what it tells you about the values of the media elites in our culture – and they don’t get much more corporate elitist than Netflix – and how they see the whole world through the narrow confines of US politics.

The basic premise of what is, to put it mildly, a smug, morally and intellectually infantile script, is that the elites don’t listen to the apocalyptic warnings – and that the dumbed down populace just follow them. But in the real-world environmental activists have been warning about the imminent end of the world for all of my life.

We were told for example that all the Arctic ice would be gone by 2015, and Prince Charles (hardly the non-conformist ‘ordinary’ scientist) told us in 2009 that we only had eight years to save the planet.

Every time one of the ‘end of the world is nigh’ prophets opens their mouth, they are given endless publicity by media and politicians alike. In other words, the film’s premise is based on a big lie – or perhaps a delusion, given that the Hollywood elites do really seem to see themselves as oppressed truthtellers with little or no power!

The Deplorables

What is also clear from the movie is that our elites regard working-class people as uneducated, simplistic, pleasure-seeking ‘deplorables’. The irony is that many university-educated (indoctrinated?) will see this film as a prophetic work of genius – whilst most working-class people will see it as the smug sermon against them which it undoubtedly is.

The attempt to blame all the evils of the world – including the sin of ‘climate denialism’ – on Donald Trump, and those who supported him is as prejudiced and ignorant as the caricature of ordinary people it attempts to portray.

Then there is the not-so-subtle message that we really need to trust ‘the science’. The only people in the satirical world of Don’t Look Up who can be trusted are the ‘real’ scientists. The trouble is that when you adopt the belief that there is something called ‘the science’, then you end up negating science by pronouncing those who don’t share your conclusions as obviously not being ‘real’ scientists.

The genius of science as a working methodology is that it can be falsified. Once you pronounce your views as de facto unfalsifiable, then you have moved beyond science into the realms of ideology.

The Hypocrites

The hypocrisy is breathtaking. Leonardo DiCaprio is a UN Climate Change ambassador who was photographed sunning himself on a £100 million superyacht which burns up more carbon in one week than most of us would use in one year. It’s like the preacher making a series about the necessity of sexual purity while having an affair with his secretary!

The film, made by one of the largest capitalist corporations in the world, suggests that it is the capitalist corporates who want to ignore the reality so that they can make money. Whereas in the real world, it is largely the corporates who are demanding that climate change be dealt with – and that they get paid to do the dealing. There is a lot of green money to be made.

The Christian Perspective?

One Christian commentator sees Don’t Look Up as a commentary on the government’s response to Covid – which just goes to show that in the post-modern world we can make things mean whatever we want them to.

Don’t Look Up is a good old fashioned, modernist film – with a clear moralistic message. The trouble is that it is the wrong message. At one point in the film, we are told that the end of the world is too serious to be joked about – in a film that is largely a joke.

But it does at least get this right: human beings do need to look up but not to see some approaching comet or end of the world climate catastrophism. We need to look up to see the God who has the whole world in his hands and that the present heavens and earth are ‘being kept for the day of judgement and destruction of the ungodly’ (2 Peter 3:7).

The end of the world is not nigh yet because the Lord is giving humanity a chance to repent and turn to him. It’s not that we shouldn’t be concerned about the environment (precisely the opposite). But we are not to look to ourselves for salvation.

Whether it’s nuclear bombs diverting comets, or mega-corporations building windmills, we cannot save ourselves or the planet. But we should look up to the One who can. In this regard, the prayer prayed by the troubled ex-evangelical teen is a great one for us and our leaders to pray. The only difference is that, unlike Mr McKay, we are praying to the God who is the hearer and answerer of prayer. And who can, and does, act.

‘Dearest Father, almighty Creator. We ask for your grace tonight, despite our pride. Your forgiveness, despite our doubt. Most of all Lord we ask for your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance. Amen.’

David Robertson works as an evangelist with churches in Sydney, Australia, where he runs the ASK Project. He blogs at The Wee Flea.

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17 comments

  1. There’s nothing new under the sun (Eccl).
    Just another old film rehashed to fit in with the modern worldview.
    I remember watching “when worlds collide” in 1953. Same plot but without all the rubbish you so clearly talk about.
    Blessings David,

    Mike Stewart

  2. It was ever thus. In the mid 70s I was being educated (indoctrinated?) at university in Glasgow. Glaciology lectures were liberally peppered with warnings of the impending ice age. Just in case we got complacent that time was on our side, we were directed to papers by eminent climatologists who had “proof” that glaciers expanded and ice ages formed far more quickly than had previously been thought. Sadly for Hollywood, glacial advance, even at its fasted predicted rate, was still far too slow for a disaster movie.

  3. “We were told for example that all the Arctic ice would be gone by 2015”.

    Who said this?

    ‘Prince Charles (hardly the non-conformist ‘ordinary’ scientist) told us in 2009 that we only had eight years to save the planet.’

    Yeah, so?

    It’s a broad comedy and it doesn’t make fun of ordinary people, instead it makes fun of todays so called ‘thought leaders’ ( the term sends a shiver down my spine). Climate scientists interviewed about the film have said how they feel just like the central characters the film depicts when it comes to trying to alert society to the risks and emerging dangers of manmade climate change. Evangelicals and climate scientists such as Katherine Hayhoe, John Cook and the late and extremely humble John Houghton have also been very forthright about the determined opposition to the truth on Climate Change.

    The film wasn’t made by Christians so we cannot really try and overlay our expectations on it in terms of expression but the interesting question is how are moral questions expressed in our non christian society. To be honest, in Australia climate change deniers got away for a long time with duping the main stream media into false balance and equivalence till Australia’s msm finally wised up.

    1. It does mock ordinary people – todays ‘thought leaders’ are almost totally on the ‘planet is doomed’ side. It does not mock Greta – one of the key though leaders. I wasn’t aware that there was any balance in the MSM in Australia on this – you sound incredibly like someone who knows The Truth and anyone who dares to deviate in any way is automatically a heretic?! Is it not permitted to question without being called a denier?

      1. The film elevates ordinary people with the touching final sequence around the dinner table with it’s themes of forgiveness, acceptance and the sharing of looking over life and what has happened. This sort of thing is not generally depicted in mainstream films and certainly not with ordinary people and this sequence’s contrast with the self obsessed rich and powerful escaping (though I thought Jonah Hill’s character was a powerful moral and poignant pivot in the film).

        As to someone who Knows The Truth,, I just have to smile at that. I have to confess to being skeptical whenever the idea of questioning is raised as there has been such a determined and wellfunded assault on the findings of climate science over the years. What debate do you mean? The science? The data and methodology behind the science? What do those three Christians I listed say about the science and their Christian response? The response to the science in public policy and societal response?

        And finally

        “We were told for example that all the Arctic ice would be gone by 2015”.

        Who said this? I’m interested.

      2. Wadham was talking about summer ice, the grauniad article didn’t make that clear. Wadham was also very clear it was a prediction of his from his conclusions about climate change in the Artic. The absurd, real life thing about ice from the Artic reducing due to climate change is that governments and corporations instead of lamenting it just see it as an opportunity to make more money through more shipping routes and access to oil and gas deposits. Just like the film.

      3. And the point being made – that the predictions were wrong (as virtually all the modellers predictions have been) was correct.

      4. Well, I think you have to first acknowledge you didn’t investigate what Wadham actually said rather than claiming vaguely that ‘predictions were wrong’ , Instead it is just Wad ham’s timing and we don’t know what he based it on.

        It is flat out wrong to claim from this that climate models don’t work. The info you linked to did not say anything about Wadham basing his prediction on climate models so you can’t jump to making a sweeping assertion like that. How are climate models wrong? Show where their methodology and outcomes fall down on what they set out to do.

      5. I’m afraid that I did ‘investigate’ what Wadham said. It was a common claim at the time. You asked for evidence – I gave it to you. I am not aware of any major predictions based on climate models that have worked. So far all the major UN ones about coming disasters have been disastrously wrong. If you went to know where they have gone wrong I suggest you read for example Bjorn Lomberg.

      6. But Wadham talked about summer ice and the graun article you linked to neglected to set that out and you just repeated it. I am not sure what you mean by it being a ‘common theme’, Wadham on summer ice or Artic ice in general? And what does this theme say and who was saying it and why? Sorry to go on about it but there has been so much deliberate disinformation around climate change that I find it helpful to check the sources when people put up claims about climate change.

        ‘I am not aware of any major predictions based on climate models that have worked.’ What major predictions have been made, based on which models and how have they not worked? I didn’t realise the UN ran climate models as the UN is not a scientific organisation. What models did the UN originate or run? For example, the IPCC comes under the UN but the IPCC doesn’t have any climate models of its own.

        If you are claiming that the political scientist Bjorn Lomborg has shown that climate models have gone wrong well then you will have access to the peer reviewed studies he has produced that demonstrate this. You can then reproduce the relevant bits along with accompanying citations far faster than I can wading through his stuff and so show me that climate models have actually failed.

      7. A common theme? John Kerry warning that the Arctic ice would be almost certainly be gone by 2009? Amongst his many other false prophecies! I would suggest if you are serious about this, as opposed to just making debating points, you read Lomborg’s work or the Green environmentalist Michael Schellenberger’s ‘Apocalypse Never’. I have read numerous books, articles etc and am open to persuasion. I have no political axe to grind in this. In fact I started out thinking that the facts about climate change were clear and unquestionable. Once you begin to read them it becomes clear that it is not as black and white as people on either side declare. As regards climate models I suggest you read this paper by Professor Nicola Scafetta from the University of Naples – in which he analysed 38 of the main models used and found most of them to be inaccurate – https://www.mdpi.com/2225-1154/9/11/161

        Stephen Koonins ‘Unsettled’ is also enlightening.

        But I have a suspicion that you won’t ‘wade’ through any of this – when one ‘knows’ the truth and is understandably sceptical of conspiracy theorists – its much easier to declare the science settled and label anyone who disagrees as a conspiracy theorist.

        By the way there are numerous UN predictions – here are the ones off the top of my head I can remember – 1989 – some nations wipef off the face of the earth by 2000. 1971 – New ice age by 2020. Your comments about the UN are disingenuous – most government use the UN’s predictions as their basis for policy. Not one has yet proven to be true…

      8. In what context did John Kerry say this and what did he base it on? Give the source. It’s no use throwing these vague things out without any evidence that underlies them otherwise everyone reading this can just dismiss it, apologies but that’s the way it goes. And you say Kerry has made ‘prophecies’? Is that merely a partisan comment meant to be a put down? I make the same sort of mistake.

        But the above is a distraction because it is, again, not evidence about your claim about what science says about Artic ice or temps, etc. I’m sorry but you are going to have to come up with better stuff than that, not debating points on my part, it’s asking for evidence.

        I went through Scarfetta’s paper and his working premise for critiquing the climate models is based on two things: his unproven hypothesis that lunar and planetary orbital cycles within the solar system affect climate and that global temperatures have cooled. On the second, he has to show why temp records are wrong and on the first no one has been able to replicate his work and there are issues around him not releasing the computer codes he based his work on this unproven hypothesis of his so that others can examine it and replicate his work. So basically because the models go against his prior conclusions so of course he is going to conclude they are wrong, i.e. it seems to include circular reasoning. Another issue with the paper is that he doesn’t say how each model operates, what initial conditions and what parameters it works with so garbage in, garbage out. So I cannot see how Scarfetta’s conclusion can hold, but take me through the paper and show that I am wrong.

        ‘By the way there are numerous UN predictions – here are the ones off the top of my head I can remember – 1989 – some nations wipef off the face of the earth by 2000. 1971 – New ice age by 2020. ‘

        Sure, citations or where they show up and let’s examine them.

        As to the ‘UN’, are you confusing the United Nations with the IPCC, an organisation under the auspices of the UN but not the UN that scientists from a number of disciplines to do with climate give unpaid time and effort to compile their reports that policy makers use?

      9. I’m sure you very genuinely hold your views on climate change in exactly the same way as I do, we just disagree. If I have been harsh in how I have expressed myself I hope you will forgive me, I just believe that this is a very important topic and we don’t have time to waste in acting on it.

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