“I have been assured … that a young healthy child well nursed, is, at a year old, a most delicious nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee, or a ragoust.” Jonathan Swift modestly proposed in 1729 that Irish children be eaten during the famine to prevent “from being a burden on their parents or country.” When the political situation becomes ludicrous and fatal, satire is the most biting mode of response available to us. The newest film by Adam McKay, director of “Vice” and “Anchorman,” combines his politics and absurd humor in a satire about the impending threat of climate change.
Must a film be “good”? Is it not enough for Jennifer Lawrence to have a cool mullet and for Leo Dicaprio to be married to a woman his own age?
Film holds up the mirror to reality. In this case, a funhouse mirror, distorting and exaggerating the proportions of our culture. Adam McKay’s view of the 21st century is grim. He shares his perspective through extreme satire, more extreme than we have likely seen since Boots Riley’s “Sorry to Bother You,” Maybe this kind of humor isn’t easily appreciated, or audiences simply aren’t as cynical as Adam McKay. Consequently, the film received negative reviews from Roger Egbert, Vulture and The New York Times.
Mark Rylance’s performance as an offish billionaire almost too closely resembles tech giants like Zuckerberg and Bezos. “He’s the guy that bought the Gutenberg Bible and lost it.” This one line captures the simultaneous power and aloofness of billionaires today, the impossible farce of an era when every absurdity, like Bezos’ phallic space rocket or Trump’s Covid diagnosis, is an online spectacle. The film is equitable in its mockery — mouth breathing, red hat wearing Trump supporters are too easy to make fun of, so the film doesn’t linger.
President Orlean (Meryl Streep), one part Hillary and three parts Trump, is more concerned about midterm numbers than the disaster, and follows at the beck and call of the billionaire who funded her campaign. While much media reflecting on the online culture of the last decade severely misses the mark, comments on the stream of Riley Bina’s (Ariana Grande’s) concert may have been taken from a TikTok live.
“There’s three types of American people. There are you, the working class. Us, the cool rich, and then them. I’m sorry, but we need them. We need them because you build us up to fight them.” This is Jonah Hill at his best. It’s also a scathingly real critique of the current political climate.
In “Don’t Look Up,” the medium is the message. Promotion for the movie didn’t indicate it’s heavily satirical tone, only the cast, which seemed to include every major movie star of the last several decades. The film shows clear disdain for our obsession with celebrity culture. It is a criticism of our addiction to short form media and waning attention spans; every scene seems to cut in the middle of somebody speaking, moving our focus quickly to the next subject. As much as McKay criticizes, he has no choice but to utilize the same methods of distraction he condemns to capture our attention.
Maybe the situation isn’t as dire as McKay makes it out to be. After all, the film is one person’s perspective of modernity, the 21st century in all its hypocritical and ostentatious glory. It’s still funny — humor comes from extreme specificity.