It’s an all too familiar story of this time: an expert speaks out, the people respond. Mostly it is with respect. But for those who do not like the conclusion, the resistance hardens. They are looking for an alternative truth.
Depending on where you fall on the spectrum, choose your issue: Covid vaccinations, climate change, Brexit, maybe even the moon landings. But in this case, it’s the Netflix comedy about a comet hitting the earth, Do not look up.
This film takes an unusual path. The experts here are some of the newspaper critics who have given it lukewarm writing. Within days, there were passionate counter-reviews on Twitter and this created its own corner on the piazza of modern discourse, Reddit. Its failure in the hands of the critics has made it a success – and one that I’m not entirely sure I wish for.
How can the movie, which has been airing on Netflix since Christmas Eve, not be a winner? It has a cast that includes Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence as astronomers, Meryl Streep as a Trump-like president, Ariana Grande as a wagon-jumping celebrity, Mark Rylance as a rocket-launching technology billionaire, and a lovely dark pitch: it is not t the approaching comet or the obvious subtext, climate change, it is the problem. It’s us. Faced with a planet killer of an event, we have to pick holes in the argument.
And the critics have. The Washington Post called it “shaggy.” The Guardian compared it to a creepy political Facebook meme sent by an old family member. The FT’s Danny Leigh review had a lot of jokes of its own and the Daily Mail had a favorite old story trope: “Leonardo DiCaprio hopes new movie Do not look up will be a ‘wake-up call’ on climate change (so will he eventually give up private jets?) ”.
Those writings became similar to those events about which conspiracy theorists say, “Who cares about the experts, I believe only what I see with my own eyes.” Or, as one Reddit commenter put it: “They do not own the way I see things. I would only believe them if they were scientists. ”
In true contrasting style, alternative facts have begun to emerge. The old standard for a movie was how many stars it was given – the lowest I found for Do not look up was two out of five by The Guardian.
Netflix has its own numbers, which you also can not measure against the traditional box office. It advertised that it had 263 million “viewing hours” in the first two weeks of its release (not quite such an impressive statistic considering that the film is quite long at almost two and a half hours). It is in Netflix’s top 10 movies in 94 countries, and is the platform’s third most successful movie ever.
The other way to change public opinion is alternative commentators: actress Susan Sarandon, climate scientist Michael Mann and author Joyce Carol Oates all said their piece in support on Twitter.
As well as contributing to Netflix’s viewing figures for Do not look up, I watched myself The manufacturers over Christmas. Initially, his first performances in Philadelphia were a flop with rarely visited theaters – a pocket lady was one of the notable few – and barely laughed. When it arrived in New York, the eyes of the anecdote film reviewer Renata Adler fell on it. She wrote: “Shame”, “gross”, “uneven”, she wrote.
But Peter Sellers accidentally saw an early screening of the film and did the 1968 equivalent of blue tick tweet. He took out full-page ads in Variety and the New York Times, calling it “the ultimate movie” and “a phenomenon.”
Failure turned into success. The theaters began to fill up, the weaknesses turned into strengths and it became a landmark film in a renegotiation of our relationship with Hitler: mockery triumphing over terror.
Do not look up director Adam McKay clearly wants politicians and media to be mocked for inciting some terror over climate change.
The mediocre reviews are armed to do so. By criticizing them are accusations that the connection of special interests diminishes the movie because they are mocked. McKay accused those who failed to understand the seriousness of climate change and the importance of his film of being like a robot watching a love story. “Why are their faces so close to each other?”
So the problem is who to listen to. Is the filmmaker and platform that tells you their work great? The silent scientists who grind data or the noisy ones who pump out opinions, even about movies? Experienced critics or the public? And if the only thing we can agree on is “not the politicians”, who else is meant to change things?
For the record, I was not a robot. I thought the film was a disturbing dissection of the current state of affairs. So too, by the way, most of the reviews, if you read them in full.
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