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Don’t Look up is a disaster movie about climate change.
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Don’t Look up is a disaster movie about climate change.

Don't Look Up is a disaster movie for the climate change times


Don’t look up, the new disaster movie jam-packed with stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Chris Evans, Jennifer Lawrence, Arianna Grande, Timothée Chalamet, Jonah Hill — and about a dozen more — starts similarly to any other disaster movie.  

A group of scientists working in anonymity discovers that a comet is on collision course with Earth. They need to get together to save humanity. 

What is the difference in this particular disaster film? Nobody cares. 

“I’ve been really scared about the climate, and the collapse in the livable atmosphere. It seems to be growing faster and faster,” Adam McKay, director of CBC, stated in an interview.

“Yet for some strange reason, it’s still not penetrating into our culture. It’s believed that it’s only one of many problems, even though science is clear: this is the story of mankind’s history.

That is the message that lies at the heart Don’t look up. McKay, a journalist by training, was inspired to write the script with David Sirota. United Nations’ IPCC report’s warningsHe was worried about “extreme drought, precipitation shortages, and risks associated water availability”, which kept him awake at night. 

In| In Don’t look up Scientists discover a comet headed for Earth, and nobody cares.

This is what makes this movie a disaster movie unlike others. 2012, Tomorrow’s Day, San AndreasOr Greenland. Instead of offering action-packed examples for escapism disasterologists and literary experts suggest Don’t look up — and other fiction like it — is the natural evolution of storytelling now that climate change is a real part of everyday life.

The apocalypse feels less like a distant nightmare and more like a real risk that lives right around the corner, so our stories are evolving to reflect it.

McKay said, “I think it’s going to start to appear in a number of movies and a bunch of storytelling, whether it be television or books or music.” It will permeate all things.

The discovery of ‘cli-fi’

Don’t look upThis is far from the first disaster movie to include elements of climate changes in its plot. Kevin Costner’s Waterworld — the 1995 critical flop about a world underwater due to the melting of the polar ice caps — Hollywood has looked to a changing environment for its stories.

And Sherryl Vint, a professor of media and cultural studies at the University of California in Riverside, explained that responding to developments in the real world has always been an element of science fiction. Though the name “cli-fi” — or climate fiction — is a new invention, science fiction in particular has always reflected how technological and scientific changes can lead to apocalyptic or dystopian ends “if these technologies get out of our control.”

There was a “huge boom” of end-of-the-world apocalyptic and post-apocalyptic fiction in the 1950s in response to the invention of the atom bomb, Vint said, and then a heyday of disaster fiction in the 1970s in response to a “counter-cultural move towards Earth Day” and the beginnings of environmental politics.

She explained that the thing that is changing is where these stories end up. 

Vint stated, “Works on climate change are increasingly being authored by authors who do not necessarily identify with the speculative category.” Instead of being restricted to a specific niche, all art disciplines are beginning to ask the same questions about what a climate altered future might look like. “Because it’s kind of becoming a near future realism in some way,” Vint said.

Vint also describes a shift from stories about human-caused apocalypse going beyond genre fiction and becoming “capital L literature” — like in the novels Station Eleven, The OverstoryNew York 2140 — delivering a more accurate and realistic depiction of how people adapt to disasters and their fallout. 

While this everyday depiction of the effects of climate change is less entrenched on screen than it is in novels, their number is increasing. Angelina Jolie’s wildfire movie Those Who Wish me Dead released within months of devastating fires in California, Oregon and British Columbia — one of the few movies to use forest fires as its subject. The black comedy appeared earlier this month. Silent Night A group of friends met for Christmas dinner. They were aware that a human-caused environmental disaster would kill all life within 24 hours. 

Kiera Knightley is seen in a still from Silent Night. The black comedy takes place on Christmas and shows parents and children dealing with the upcoming apocalypse. (TIFF)

These depictions of the end of the world may seem like a bleaker experience than action-oriented films, but Northwest Missouri State University disaster researcher and educator John Carr sees them as an evolution of the genre — and a helpful one. 

Disaster movies are uniquely useful for disaster researchers, Carr said, as they are the primary way that average people are informed about disasters and inspired to take action to avoid them. So far though, they have largely focused on outsized, unrealistic events — an asteroid crashing into Earth, or the planet freezing over — instead of even semi-realistic depictions of the disasters we are increasingly likely to face. 

That’s useful as escapism — traditionally the main purpose of disaster movies — but it doesn’t do a good job of representing how we can confront, and overcome, those coming disasters. Carr says that this is more important than ever.

“We’re here saying we don’t have the time to reach consensus. Our time is running out. He stated that we need to reach out and connect with people to create a common understanding, so that we can find a solution together. 

“Those mediums provide an opportunity for consensus building.”

“Now we rebuild”

While Don’t look up Silent NightBoth do a better task of dealing with the real human cost and experience of climate-induced disaster. Samantha Montano is an author and disaster researcher at Massachusetts Maritime Academy.

While disaster movies have largely focused on the survivors of disasters, they have largely ignored the aftermath. No matter how realistically the film depicts disasters in detail, almost every movie ends when the disaster happens.

Like 2015’s San AndreasThe film ends with Dwayne Johnson looking over the rubble of the city before he says the final line: “Now, we rebuild.” That omits the real — and longest-lasting — part of a disaster, and the one that will be most difficult to deal with in ongoing climate crisis.

Montano stated that you never see the worst part of a disaster. It is what takes the most time for communities to recover from a disaster.

“We are still trying to deal with the reality of climate change and the increased likelihood of disasters.” It is difficult to imagine what it would look like for the world and its leaders to work together to create a better world.


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