Adam McKay’s ‘Don’t Look Up’ real story & don’t look up full movie. Screenwriter and director Adam McKay’s Don’t Look Up (Anchorman, The Big Short) isn’t entirely based on true events. But our crazy reality is certainly at the center of the movie. The plot follows two scientists, played by Jennifer Lawrence and Leonardo DiCaprio, who try to warn government officials and then the general public of the arrival of an asteroid that will destroy the planet.
The project began as an allegory of climate change, one of McKay and DiCaprio’s main concerns. As explained in a recent profile on Vanity Fair:
The road to McKay’s latest movie began a decade ago, then McKay read a U.N. report in 2018 outlining the scientific consensus on climate change—and freaked out. “I couldn’t sleep for two nights after I read it,” he says. “I had one of those moments where I went from, ‘Hey, we gotta fucking take care of this, this is crazy,’ to ‘Holy shit. It’s happening now. It’s not 80 years from now, it’s now.”
But, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the general chaos of our times, Don’t Look Up became more about the ways in which we as a society are fundamentally broken. Our society, McKay says, can no longer come to a consensus about anything. From the Vanity Fair article:
Within a month of production, the pandemic hit, and the world went into lockdown, followed by the harrowing presidential election, followed by the January 6 insurrection. The news kept italicizing the message of the movie. “I swear to you, I did not want ‘Don’t Look Up’ to be this topical,” McKay says. “I had to make it a little crazier. That was the big change. I think reality outflanked us.”
So this edition of Real Stories will look at the real events and the people who inspired the Don’t Look Up story. Oh, and there is also an asteroid about to pass very close to Earth in the next few days. We will also tell you about it.
No One Listens
Adam McKay has shown in his recent work that he is interested in systems. The Big Short uses the Great Recession to think about the failures of the financial system. Vice describes Dick Cheney’s life to understand the federal bureaucracy and the erosion of public trust in government.
With Don’t Look Up, McKay turns his satirical sites into the mainstream media, accusing them of ignoring the climate crisis and focusing on more sensational issues. We don’t need to look beyond McKay’s Twitter profile to understand his concerns about climate change. “The climate emergency is NOW”, he reads himself.
The Cables media is featured as a central antagonist in Don’t Look Up. Just as McKay pokes fun at politicians from both parties through the character of President Janie Orlean (Meryl Streep), he also criticizes all three major media outlets. cable communication: Fox News, CNN, and MSNBC. According to one recent study, 2020 saw the least amount of time spent on the climate crisis on evening and Sunday news shows since 2016.
Rather than picking the ripe fruit from Fox News, McKay’s main parody in the film is Morning Joe, the popular MSNBC show. The show we see in the movie, The Daily Rip, is hosted by Brie Evantee (Cate Blanchett) and Jack Bremmer (Tyler Perry). The first, Vanity Fair notes, is “as close to [Morning Joe co-host] Mika Brzezinski as one could get without being an impersonation.”
McKay’s indictment of the media extends to other venerated institutions, including the New York Times, which he also spoofs in the movie. His problem with the paper, he told Vanity Fair, is the way they treat the climate crisis like any other story:
Then again, if you’re a top editor at the paper, McKay ventures, “are you really going to go into a meeting and go like, ‘Hey guys, I think we should put a headline that says, ‘We’re fucked.’”
The Presidential Mash-Up in Don’t Look Up
From the moment we meet President Orlean at Don’t Look Up, it is clear that she is a president and a terrible person. The portraits of her predecessors that she presumably chose to hang on the walls of the Oval Office epitomize her lack of shame. One is from Woodrow Wilson, a racist who praised and screened The Birth of a Nation in the White House. Another is that of Richard Nixon, who resigned in disgrace after the Watergate scandal.
The connections between the character of President Orlean and the former real-life president, Donald Trump, are too clear. The “famous president” archetype, she won in part because of his willingness to say and do anything. The Trump connection also extends to the fact that Orlean’s son Jason (Jonah Hill) is her chief of staff. Jason, a clear nepotist fusion of Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, only cares about power, money, and fame.
But when talking about the movie, McKay has been clear: Trump is not the only influence. And how could it be? What McKay unpacks in Don’t Look Up is the by-product of decades and decades of political malfeasance and social decay.
As the director recently explained to the Los Angeles Times, Orlean is “narcissistic and self-serving and shortsighted” like Trump, but far savvier. She has “the double-talk and the polish” of Bill Clinton, is “underqualified” like George W. Bush, who also gets a nod with Orlean’s speech aboard an aircraft carrier, contains “a little pinch of [Barack] Obama, his kind of smooth celebrity thing,” and the “empty suit performative kind of stuff” of Ronald Reagan.
McKay makes this all explicit in the movie when he cuts to a framed photo of Orlean embracing Clinton. A self-proclaimed Democratic-socialist, McKay has been clear: he holds the establishment of both political parties accountable.
The Real Comet of Cash Heading Towards Earth
Finally, here’s an ironic dose of reality for you: an asteroid is heading towards Earth right now. According to NASA (via Live Science), a “potentially hazardous” piece of space rock will enter Earth’s orbital path on December 11, 2021. Larger than the Eiffel Tower, the asteroid, named 4660 Nereus, is expected to “skim past” Earth at 14,700 MPH. Phew. But the asteroid is the closest call Earth has had in the last 20 years. Pretty spooky right?
Live Science notes the asteroid will be about 2.4 million miles away. That’s roughly 10 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. In space terms, that is quite close. NASA designates anything that comes within 120 million miles of the planet as a “near-Earth object.”
Scientists have tracked Nereus for decades, since 1982. The asteroid enters Earth’s orbital path once every decade or so.
But what makes the asteroid so interesting, especially as it relates to Don’t Look Up, is its perceived value. According to experts, the asteroid contains roughly $4.71 billion worth of rare metals.
Those familiar with the plot of Don’t Look Up will see a familiar story. Billionaire Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance), figures as the movie’s chief antagonist. Without spoiling too much, I will simply say that Isherwell sees a lot of profit in Earth’s impending doom. A major donor to Orlean, he heavily influences presidential decision-making.
His objective? Mine the incoming comet to get access to rare metals he can then use to supply his technology company. He’s like a creepier, more evil version of Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk, and Mark Zuckerberg combined.
Similar to Dick Cheney in Vice or the bankers in The Big Short, Isherwell is all about himself and the bottom line. Space has consistently been a source of hope, inspiration, and wonder for humans. But now, as space travel becomes more and more real, capitalism has found its way in.
Space used to be about science and discovery. Now, just like Wall Street, and just like politics, it is all about the money. And that is one of the many harsh, dark realities at the center of Don’t Look Up.