Two Michigan astronomers discover comet 9 kilometers in diameter heading towards Earth. A “planet killer” who will seal our fate in six months and two weeks. But to the duo’s amazement, the White House appears to be “in denial” and talk shows and social media scoff at the danger. It remains a niche story alongside singer Riley Bina’s (Ariana Grande) relationship issues. Because does this comet really exist or is it a lucrative ploy of the space lobby? When the comet becomes visible, America on the right launches the “Don’t Look Up” campaign.
This premise seemed to me in advance as a spiritual metaphor, but also somewhat cumbersome for climate denial and ostrich behavior of anti-vaccines. If half of the population denies harsh but nasty facts, then disaster becomes inevitable. But how do you keep such a metaphor fresh throughout a movie? That half of Hollywood’s A-list signed in the footsteps of environmental snob Leonardo DiCaprio for this film didn’t necessarily reassure me. Won’t this be a good movie, stay in ostrich jargon?
On the contrary: Do not seek is witty, sometimes hilarious: an absurd and morbid satire in the Kubrick lore Dr Strangelove. The denial joke is not used for too long: at some point the government and the media are taking the comet seriously. Consequence of an indiscreet ‘vag pic’ by President Meryl Streep, yes, but it’s a long story. Then a swamp of interest opens up: this apocalyptic comedy has more twists and turns than a rattlesnake. And how long can the person who twitter and TikTok focus on something as depressing as the coming downfall?
Here is Adam McKay in great shape, the producer of the brilliant TV series Succession (on the Murdoch Clan), who already made his breakthrough as a director with some absurd Will Ferrell meta-comedies about American media and machismo: Presenter, Talladega Nights, The Other Guys. In 2015, McKay surprised with The big court, an instructive and oddly poignant anatomy of the credit crunch. In Vice, his comic biopic of Vice-President Dick Cheney, in 2017 his anger at the degradation of the USA sometimes shone a little too much. Do not seek instead, is a sinister shrug of the shoulders, a typical product of the Trump years. Humanity – or rather: the United States – is proving unreasonable, powerless, desperate.
McKay’s star ensemble does what it does best. Jennifer Lawrence plays her brooding self as astronomer Kate Dibiasky, who plays the shrill Cassandra – “We’re all going to die!” – becomes a rich source of mocking memes. His boss Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) keeps asking himself: what would Carl Sagan do? It shows this nervous tendon’s ambition to swallow xanax, zoloft, and cialis that can be easily modeled by the White House and talk show tuthola Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett). Meryl Streep, as Trumpian President Janie Orlean, forms a fun duet with Jonah Hill as son and Chief of Staff Jason. Gray Cardinal behind his throne turns out to be tech mogul Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), who zoes out like Andy Warhol.
Not all characters are equally successful – Ron Perlman has a thankless role as a macho astronaut – and not all of the complications are equally necessary, but this doomsday comedy is so energetic, those details crackle too. As the comet approaches, the satire almost imperceptibly derails into a frenzied frenzy. Everything revolves around money and popularity, inextricably linked by the almighty power of the algorithm.
In Do not seek McKay holds up the blackest mirror he can to the United States. His country is no longer the hope of mankind but a tumor that threatens to drag the entire planet into stupid demagoguery, crass materialism, technological pride, brain-dead infotainment, culture wars and conspiracy theories. Not a very patriotic film. You soon take sides with the comet.
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