Claytoonz: 'Don't Look Up' at reality
Did you miss me? I took a couple days off through Christmas. Do you remember the last time a day went by, less enough two when you didn’t get a new cartoon from me? I can’t. Instead of drawing cartoons, I hung out by myself during Christmas weekend eating Chinese food and watching movies.
I can’t remember everything I watched but what stood out for me was "Klaus," "A Boy Called Christmas," "Hawkeye" (the Marvel series), "Encanto," "Love Hard," and "Don’t Look Up."
"Don’t Look Up" has been the subject of a lot of conversations since it premiered on Netflix. It’s trending on Twitter. There’s a lot of debate, not just over the message in it, but whether it’s a good movie or not. It seems that most critics hate it. But what do critics know?
If you haven’t seen it or heard about it, "Don’t Look Up" is a comedy on Netflix that is a parody of a lot of the shit we’ve lived through over the past few years.
I’m going to try not to give any spoilers, but if you haven’t seen the movie and want to be totally surprised and entertained, don’t read the rest of the blog:
Leonardo DiCaprio stars as an astronomer and he and his grad student, played by Jennifer Lawrence, discover a planet-killing comet headed directly to Earth and giving our planet six months before its doomsday. The world reacts with indifference.
Meryl Streep is president and after being informed of this planet-killing comet, she wants to “sit tight and assess.” She talks about her poll numbers during a briefing (who does that remind you of?. Her chief-of-staff is her son (who does that remind you of?), played by John Hill. They ignore the impending disaster (what does that remind you of?), they politicize the comet (what does that remind you of?), when the administration does want to focus on the comet, it’s only to distract from a political scandal (what does that remind you of?), they try to make money off the comet (would we do that?), and one of the scientists is villainized by the press and administration for alerting the public of the coming disaster (Who does that remind you of?).
Eventually, two sides emerge. Those who believe the comet is coming and those who think it’s a hoax. “Don’t look up” becomes a right-wing slogan.
The film has an amazing cast. I think the best performances came from Jonah Hill, Rob Morgan, Jennifer Lawrence, and Meryl Streep. I felt Leo was out of his element in a comedy and failed to really deliver a great performance, which is unlike him. I guess as great of an actor as he is, he’s no Tom Hanks, or even a Will Ferrell, who can bounce back and forth from comedies to dramas. In fact, Will Ferrell’s moving-making partner, Adam McKay, wrote, directed, and produced this movie. Do NOT let that scare you off as he’s made other tongue-in-cheek dramedies like "Vice." I hope Adam McKay keeps making political movies.
Despite this great cast of heavyweights, I didn’t think the movie was that good. At first, I felt that maybe just because it’s making an important point about climate change, the pandemic, Trumpers, capitalism, an unequal economic system, and just how vile the last administration was, that liberals are supposed to like it, never mind if it sucks. It’s a great concept. I made a post about it on Facebook and invited my friends to give their own reviews. They were mixed.
One friend asked me what it was that I didn’t like about it. That made me think. In fact, the entire thread made me think and I realized that even though it’s not a great movie, there were aspects I did like. Maybe this is another "Big Lebowski" where nobody likes it until years later.
Another friend on Twitter compared it to Dr. Strangelove, which many others have compared it to as well, except my pal called it a “TikTok Strangelove.” I think that’s pretty accurate. But, I think I found the real problem with this movie.
When Donald Trump began his presidential campaign in 2015, I struggled to caricature the guy. Then I realized I was trying to draw a cartoon of someone who was already a cartoon. I was trying to lampoon a human being who was more a collection of vile personality traits than he was a human being. So, I went crazier with the caricature. A lot of Republicans have pointed out that my Trump caricature doesn’t physically look like Trump, but they all know it’s Trump.
Often with Trump and his goons, I found it hard to draw satire on what was already insane. I would sometimes draw a cartoon of exactly what happened, without adding any spin. What I learned was that it’s hard to satirize satire. How do you parody insanity? So, I learned how to draw cartoons making fun of what was already a satire. It was a problem other cartoonists and Saturday Night Live had to figure out as well. What do you do when newspaper headlines look like they came from The Onion?
The problem with "Don’t Look Up" is that it doesn’t ever fully figure out how to satirize satire. People refusing to look up and see what’s coming straight at them isn’t that far removed from people voting for Donald Trump even after hundreds of thousands die from his ineptitude. This paradoy of denial isn’t that far removed from Republicans saying vaccines don’t work while the virus is literally killing the unvaccinated, most of whom are Republicans. The denial in the movie isn’t that far removed from people denying they lost an election.
It’s hard to use "Don’t Look Up" as satire when here in reality, people are refusing to look up. People in this nation refuse to see what’s right in front of them. Documentaries of the Trump administration are funnier, in a scary way, than the movie "Don’t Look Up."
"Don’t Look Up" uses the tagline, “Based on truly possible events.” But here in the real world, the Trump administration was an actual event. The storming of the Capitol by white nationalists to overturn the election and install Trump as a fascist dictator was an actual event.
The film "Don’t Look Up" probably hopes to make people look up instead of just entertaining those who have been looking up for the past six years. This film will not change minds. I know this from experience as I don’t think I’ve changed one mind with my cartoons over the past six years. "Don’t Look Up" will remain a film for the choir it preaches to. It’s not like Trumpers would understand this movie or see themselves in it anyway.
But, this much analysis means this movie deserves another chance. I’m going to watch it again. If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to watch it. Don’t just settle for my impression of it. Watch it, then let me know in the comments what you think.
Music note: Today’s tunes to toon to were The Shins and the Smashing Pumpkins.
Clay Jones is the 2022 recipient of the RFK Human Rights Journalism Award in Editorial Cartooning, and won a 2021 Sigma Delta Chi Award for Excellence in Journalism from the Society of Professional Journalists. He was a finalist for the Herblock Prize in 2019 and a finalist for the National Headliner Award in 2020. See more award-winning editorial cartoons from him at Claytoonz.com.