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Reply To: Don’t Look Up: The Doomsday Dilettante,” with mythologist Norland Téllez”


An astute observation, Brian – every point of comparison you raise rings true.

My initial thought on first hearing about the film was that it seemed to be lampooning the coronavirus response in the U.S.; whether or not the filmmaker intended that (hard to believe he didn’t, at least to a degree), I can understand why Adam McKay preferred to focus exclusively on climate change on the talk show circuit. After all, despite the existential threat human-accelerated global warming poses, much of the public seems a bit removed from the sense of immediate consequences, whereas we are all in the Covid bubble right now, with everyone’s vision obscured by the delusions generated under the “fog-of-war.” Passions are high on all sides; I imagine if McKay and the cast had focused on parallels to the pandemic, that would have alienated half the potential audience from the outset, feeling they were being attacked.

Though there is still of course a partisan divide over climate change, it doesn’t seem quite so, well, personal at the moment, despite the fact it is potentially far more disruptive than the virus to the planet overall, endangering animal and plant species as well as humans. And with decades of observation and study behind us, the science re human action accelerating global warming is far more conclusive than the science surrounding the pandemic, which continues to evolve as the situation evolves; even though the parallels with the pandemic seem clear, I suspect McKay is leaving it to the viewer to connect those dots, preferring to emphasize that widespread science denialism in our society long predates the emergence of the novel coronavirus. (Of course, the beauty of the comet as metaphor is that there is no ambiguity; ignoring it requires active, willful denial: “Don’t look up!” Ironically, shifting to the completely manmade tragedy unfolding in eastern Europe, “don’t look up” is the official stance imposed on the Russian populace by their warlord.)

What I appreciate about Norland’s thought-provoking analysis is his focus on the symbolism, including its psychological and mystical implications, which isn’t tethered to the film as just a metaphor for climate change or Covid – which, at least in my mind, brings us around to your questions, about how “we have severed myth and art from playing key roles in our collective consciousness.”

On a positive note, the film itself is an artistic response to your question. Despite the fact that “Don’t Look Up is a touch self-conscious and clumsy, I don’t see so much as didactic (advocating a specific course of action, which Campbell deplores in art), as turning a mirror on contemporary society.

Alas, it’s just a start . . .