Adam McKay, director, Don’t Look Up, Hyperobject Industries, Bluegrass Films, Netflix, 2021. 138 minutes. https://www.netflix.com/ca/title/81252357.
Released December 5, 2021, Don’t Look Up is a star-studded movie written and directed by Adam McKay that quickly became Netflix’s #2 most-viewed feature of all-time. It is a powerful reflection on climate change and political inaction—inaction that, according to McKay and friends, is rooted fundamentally in science denial, in addition to greed and desire for technological fixes. For some, this crisis of science denial makes the movie not simply an allegory for climate change but also a commentary on the COVID-19 pandemic, helping us understand some of the public responses to vaccinations and safety mandates.
Don’t Look Up is a dark comedy that offers a profound critique of current political and corporate realities and how they block concerted action on climate, particularly in the United States. It is also an effort to engage us—the viewing public—and to stir and animate us to action. To that end, I’d like to use this movie review to explore my response to climate change and to challenge you to do the same. In the process, I will try not to give away anything in the movie in case you have not seen it. I do recommend watching it and gathering with others for a time of reflection, discussion, and even prayer. Don’t Look Up offers many gems of insight. For me, it is like a parable.
“We have exactly 6 months, 10 days, 2 hours, 11 minutes, and 41 seconds until a comet twice the size of Chicxulub tears through our atmosphere and extincts all life on Earth.”
—Kate Dibiasky, scientist who discovers Comet NEOWISE, in Don’t Look Up
The film begins with the discovery of a comet on a collision course with Earth. In six months, all life will be wiped out unless drastic action is taken. Much of the movie is about the efforts of two “ordinary” North American scientists who try to get their government and the world to take the discovery seriously.
Today, despite ever-increasing extreme weather events, despite ever-more conclusive scientific reports (we think of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Sixth Assessment Report1), it is clear that the critical issue of climate change is ignored by many. For various reasons,2 so many people “don’t look and don’t think” and “do ignore and do deny.” And yet our fate with climate change—even if we fail to do anything—is not nearly as clear or as sudden as having a comet slam into us (in the same way that an asteroid devastated Earth some 66 million years ago).
We can act and make a difference with climate change in ways that we can’t with a comet. The choices and actions we make—not just those made by the politicians or the big tech and military forces as described in the movie—really do matter. Though there is some political engagement by the public in the movie, it is underplayed. And, of course, the question of lifestyle changes and communal activism (eating differently, consuming less, farming and heating buildings more sustainably, and so on) doesn’t really apply to comets. But let’s set that aside, and focus on what we can take away from the movie. And I’d like us to do so by engaging a thought experiment.
I invite you to imagine what would happen if you and I received this news today: “You have six months to live, unless we can work a miracle!” Let us assume you process this harsh news from a Christian perspective. I suppose this might be like receiving the shock news from a doctor that I have stage IV lung cancer or something like that. Except in this situation, we all get the same news—six months.
How would you respond? How would I?
I imagine I’d deny it at first. Or seriously hope the news is wrong. What would convince me otherwise? Would more evidence? Second opinions and a battery of medical tests? Or is it when I share this with friends and family and I hear back stories like, “Yes, I had a friend who died in six months, just like the doctors said.” Or maybe: “I know a gal who tried this and was totally cured.” Or how about: “The tests can give false positives. Have faith!” Sound familiar? Is it the science or the relationships that carry the day with us?
The next stage is anger. I want to blame someone. If the news was cancer, I might try blaming the government, industry, or anyone with deep pockets as I argue for compensation. Regarding COVID-19, who can I blame? And who do they blame? Technology? Our economic system? The pharmaceutical industry who profits big-time (or maybe not as much as we think)? Corrupt politicians who are in the pockets of big business? But what or who can I blame regarding an impending disaster from a comet? God is sovereign, I believe. So do I pray for more time? For God to divert the comet? Have mercy, Lord. I want to live! Why is this happening?
Some might argue that maybe I should even pray for the end to come sooner. After all, I can’t wait to be with Jesus, right? Paul said, “I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far” (Phil 1:23). I have to confess that this seems to be more theory to me than trusted fact. Something I take by faith, but I am of little faith (Matt 14:31).
Questions abound in this liminal time, this crisis time, about my relationship with my maker. I wonder if I have found the narrow gate (Matt 7:13–14)? Do I have love for others as Jesus loved me (John 13:34)? Can people actually love like that? I fall short for sure. Have I been feeding, clothing, and comforting Jesus (his image-bearers described in Matt 25:35–36)? Have I been losing my life for Jesus’s sake (Matt 10:39), or have I been seeking to find out who I am? Will Jesus say to me, “Well done, good and faithful servant” (Matt 25:21), or will he tell me, “I never knew you” (Matt 7:23)? Yes, I know it is by grace I have been saved through faith (Eph 2:8), but am I doing the good works which God prepared in advance for me to do (Eph 2:10)?
I wonder how I would spend the last six months of my life? How would you? Perhaps relax, eat, drink, be merry (Luke 12:19)? Would go and make disciples of all nations (Matt 28:19) take on new meaning and urgency for me? Would I look for opportunities to be like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37)? Would I, as a middle-class Canadian (and by definition a rich man), wake up to the misery of the world’s poor—the Lazarus’s of the world that lie at my gate (Luke 16:19–22)? They suffer disproportionately and unjustly from the climate change I and the wealthy nations of this world cause. Even worse, the poor did almost nothing to contribute to climate change. Would I, in this moment, finally be able to cast mammon aside, and only worship God (Matt 6:24)? Surely I would make my priority, at long last, to first seek his kingdom and his righteousness (Matt 6:33), wouldn’t I? What would you do?
“I’m sorry. Are we not being clear?”
“We’re trying to tell you that the entire planet is about to be destroyed.”
Like the gospels, Don’t Look Up invites all who have ears to hear, to radical change of heart. And to action. It is a parable, calling us to address a climate crisis that, according to the United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, represents an “existential threat.”3
For Christians, Don’t Look Up can serve as an opportunity to examine our lives and our lived responses— yes to climate, yes to creation, and, ultimately, yes to our Creator. Here’s an opportunity for reorientation.
“We really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, when you think about it.”
—Randall Mindy, scientist in Don’t Look Up
I encourage you to watch the movie and then, on your own and with others, consider: What biblical passages come to your heart as you contemplate the film? How is the Holy Spirit moving and speaking to you and your circle?
“Dearest Father and 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.”
—Yule, prayer at dinner table scene in Don’t Look Up
Watching Don’t Look Up, I felt moved to commit the rest of my career and my life to climate justice. How will you spend the last six months or six years or sixty years of your life? Lord give us grace, love, and courage.
Nelson Lee attends Chinatown Peace Church in downtown Vancouver—the unceded territories of xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish), and Sel̓íl̓witulh (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations. A professional engineer, Nelson founded Green Sky Sustainability, which helps organizations and companies with sustainability solutions.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, “Sixth Assessment Report,” 2021–22, accessed March 4, 2022, https://www.ipcc.ch/assessment-report/ar6/.
See George Marshall, Don’t Even Think about It: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Ignore Climate Change (New York: Bloomsbury, 2015).
UN News Global Perspective Human Stories, May 15, 2018, United Nations, https://news.un.org/en/story/2018/05/1009782.