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The climate crisis was top of mind for the cast and crew of Don’t Look Up at the film’s world premiere in New York City on Sunday.
“This is now,” writer-director Adam McKay told The Hollywood Reporter on the Jazz at Lincoln Center red carpet. “Right this second, the livable atmosphere is collapsing. We’re literally living in the movie. And if we don’t take immediate action, billions of people are going to die and we’re going to see this civilization collapse.”
Though the Netflix film alludes to climate change throughout, it never directly addresses it, instead focusing on an extinction-level comet headed directly toward Earth that astronomy professor Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and his Ph.D. candidate, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), discover. The scientists take it to the president (Meryl Streep) and her son (Jonah Hill), kicking off a political and media frenzy on how to handle the impending doom.
Despite the dark implication of the film, its most important message is hope.
“This is a warning bell of sorts of what happens if you don’t pay attention to the science,” producer Kevin Messick said. “You can’t give up hope. I think whether it’s the action that you take as a parent or as a family or as a member of the community, the action that you take at the ballot box with the people that we elect, the action that you take as a global citizen, that’s what it’s gonna take. It’s gonna take global action from people who care and who believe that the comet’s coming.”
Don’t Look Up‘s message of hope also resonates with its scientific adviser, Dr. Amy Mainzer, who helped the cast and crew maintain the film’s accuracy — from the look and feel of the costuming to the actual orbit of the comet to discussions about what the role of activism is in the movie.
“There are plenty of actions that we can take that will help mitigate against the worst effects of climate change, but it really is up to us as a society to jump in with both feet and really tackle the problem,” she told THR. “We need to do it now. So, it is extremely important not to lose hope and just get out there and do the work.”
And in true McKay fashion, instead of making Don’t Look Up a fear-inducing drama, the writer-director framed his the-sky-is-literally-falling story through a comedic lens.
“We all get overwhelmed, especially the last five or 10 years. Good lord, reality got us up against the ropes and is pummeling us with body blows,” McKay said. “So all of us and the cast really responded to this idea that we get a laugh. Oh my God, it’s been a while. [It] was really just a joy. And it just felt like we all needed that.”
Finding the middle ground between comedy and drama was something composer Nicholas Britell took into consideration when crafting the film’s score, as well as some of the other songs in Don’t Look Up. He started with the idea of the sound of what humankind can aspire to, tying in an ode to science and rationality, “and what happens if we don’t tackle the problems that are directly in front of us,” he said.
“The film resonates on so many levels with what it’s trying to alert the world to in the funniest, most entertaining possible way,” Britell continued. “I hope it makes certain people think more closely about what’s going on in the world right now. This isn’t a multicentury story. This is a multiyear story. I think [a potential climate catastrophe is a] nearer term than people realize.”
Not only is it a matter of pushing world leaders to make a change before the climate crisis reaches its peak, but also using the science and technology that is already available — renewable energy, carbon capture and carbon removal, among others, McKay explained.
“We just don’t have the will or awareness because we’re spiraling off into our clique culture and chasing bright lights,” he added. “That science is out there, but it requires everyone to realize this is a billion times bigger than any other concern you have, and that’s just not happening in our culture.”
McKay and DiCaprio have been incredibly vocal about the urgency and importance of the climate crisis, and this isn’t DiCaprio’s first time tackling it in such a public forum. The Oscar-winning actor has made a documentary about climate change, urged Congress to pass legislation and denounced climate change deniers.
“It’s really hard to reinvent the wheel as far as articulating the science of the climate crisis,” DiCaprio told reporters on the carpet. “What [McKay] did here was he created a sense of urgency, and we all wanted to be a part of a movie that, from an artistic standpoint, shifted the paradigm and made us start having conversations.”
Don’t Look Up hits theaters on Friday and starts streaming on Netflix Dec. 24.
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