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I’m a sucker for disaster movies. They indulge my fantasy that good and evil are easily distinguishable and that good always wins. The hero is usually a misfit, and the winning comes, of course, only after someone I’ve become emotionally attached to dies. The music swells, people come together in unusual unity and cooperation, and all is right with the world.

Enter the recent Netflix film Don’t Look Up, which is not your standard disaster movie. (There are spoilers ahead, so if you haven’t seen it, stop now, watch the movie, and come back.) There have been swift and strong reactions to the film—environmentalists and ecological scientists seem to finally feel seen while professional critics and media seem offended. Critics of Don’t Look Up complain about the lack of nuance and say that the script is too on-the-nose. But this is an Adam McKay film. This is the man who brought us Step Brothers and Talladega Nights and Anchorman. If you get nuance and subtlety out of a McKay film, it’s the exception, not the norm.

Everyone and every occupation is skewered in this film. There are no traditional heroes here. There is no one righteous. No not one. The film is irreverent, funny, and heartbreaking. Theories abound about its deeper meaning: it’s a contemporary parable about climate change or COVID or the Trump Administration or our obsession with celebrity or polarization. There is probably some truth to all of that, and there is so very much I’d like to talk about with this film, but I only have space to focus only on a couple of things here. If you ever want to talk more about it, look me up. I’m game.

Leonardo DiCaprio’s character, Dr. Randall Mindy, is an earnest, honest, and unassuming Michigan State University professor with a wife who loves him, and two grown sons living at home. Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), a graduate student under his care, has discovered a global extinction-sized comet heading toward earth. Dr. Mindy and Kate are intent on bringing news of the destructive comet to the attention of the people with the power to do something about it. Much of the film centers on their varying degrees of success doing that.

Along the way, Dr. Mindy becomes a social media darling: he’s sexy Dr. Mindy, the good-looking astronomer. He begins an affair with a media personality (Cate Blanchett) and feels a sense of responsibility because the masses are listening to him. He’s taken in by his sudden celebrity. When his wife asks him to take a walk with her because he’s been at his computer all day, he says, “I have a quarter million subscribers. I gotta use my voice to get the truth out there.” Both the gifts and the destructive capabilities of social media are presented with a sledge hammer. Even in the midst of the bumbling presidential administration’s response plan that he knows will fail, Mindy wants to be in the room where the decisions are made, telling himself that he may still have some sway, still be able to change things or fix things. He cannot let go of the power (and access to power) his fame has given him. When he finally comes to his senses, he delivers the lines that are the primary lessons of the film: “How do we even talk to each other? What’ve we done to ourselves? How do we fix it?” This is the moment of the beginning of his redemption, and these are, of course, important questions for us as well.

The final scenes are quite profound. Mindy knows nothing more can be done and the end of life is near, so he heads for home. He buys groceries, marveling in small things like the difference in color between farm raised salmon and wild salmon, or the Duke Ellington song on the radio. He receives forgiveness from his wife, who makes a confession of her own. He gathers the people that have become his family during this ordeal. Along with his two sons and wife are Teddy (Rob Morgan) from NASA; Kate, the grad student; and Yule (Timothee Chalamet), a young man Kate has befriended.

The seven of them prepare and cook a meal together, the table is set in china and linens. They eat and talk about what they are grateful for. There is laughter. All of this is intercut with scenes of the chaos outside as the comet approaches, offering a contrast to the calm and love within the home. Mindy struggles to know how to put a punctuation on the meal. Yule, a person of genuine faith carved out of his evangelical upbringing, steps in and prays this prayer as they hold hands around the table: “Dearest Father and Almighty Creator, we ask for your grace tonight, despite our pride. Your forgiveness, despite our doubt. Most of all, Lord, we ask for your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in Your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance. Amen.” It is the loveliest of moments.

This scene, to me, is the church. Or maybe what I long for the church to be. Simple and uncomplicated. Confession. Forgiveness. Gratitude. Feeding one another. Family created with those we’ve run into along the way. A safe place in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.

I hope you watch Don’t Look Up. I hope you like it as much as I did. I hope you see God there.

Karen Bohm Barker

Karen Bohm Barker is Northwestern College Emeritus Professor of Theatre and an Elder at Trinity Reformed Church in Orange City, Iowa.


  • Lynn Setsma says:

    Loved the movie! Thanks for this lovely recap.

  • Mark L says:

    Yes – an engaging and sobering film. I also was both surprised and gladdened by the beautiful prayer offered at that last supper. I wonder what Meryl Streep, who can become just about anyone on screen, thought about playing the Trump-like character that was her role? The slogan war also captured the core of the film for me. Thanks for putting this up on the board and for your thoughtful assessment.

  • Travis West says:

    Thanks for your reflections on and analysis of the film, Karen. I loved it, too. The final scene around the Table that focused on gratitude, eye contact, physical touch, words expressing intangible but real longings, of finding ways to connect with each other and the earth’s gifts, it was painfully beautiful (given how it was constantly interrupted with carnage, as you noted). Also, Ariana Grande’s song was brilliantly hilarious.

  • Jeff Carpenter says:

    Thanks, Karen: I too was moved by that “last supper” scene and the prayer—which was the counterpoint to the BASH algorithm predicting the professor’s dying alone. Bruce Cockburn’s song “If this were the last night of the world/what would I do?” comes to mind.

  • Henny Vroege says:

    Yes, the movie was riveting. And the last supper and the prayer were moving.

  • Dale Hulst says:

    Great assessment; thank you!

    Yes, wow! The movie is satire, dark humor, and a mirror/documentary on our dysfunctional culture.
    As you say, there are no traditional heroes. No-one is safe; we’ll all find things in this movie that hit close to home, that reveal the ways we’ve been co-opted by the shallow distractions of our culture.
    I suspect that this IS how Rome falls. (We’re all fiddling while Rome burns….)

    The movie could leave me feeling depressed and desperate (in spite of being very funny in places and affirming in the sense of “feeling seen” as you note). I see our call as Christians is to resist the drivel that has become “normal.” We can dream and work together in hope for a different kind of world. We can seek and speak truth. We can honor the people and doing the hard work of honest service.

    I do love your list: “Confession. Forgiveness. Gratitude. Feeding one another. Family created with those we’ve run into along the way. A safe place in the midst of chaos and uncertainty.”

  • Megan H says:

    As always, Karen, I am deeply grateful for your reflection. Your description of those final scenes helped me identify something I saw there that I could not name before. Courage.

    I share your assessment that the gathering around the table represents much of what I long to see in the church. And I would like to add “courage” to your list. It takes courage to remain connected to the people around the table while the world literally rumbles and howls all around you. It takes courage to pray, to confess, to forgive, and so on. Courage, of course, is not the same as bravery or bravado, which is rooted in an inflated sense of self. Courage, I believe, is rooted in trust. Trust in something or someone greater than ourselves. I want to have the kind of courage those characters had, no matter the circumstances.

  • Henk Ottens says:

    I found this film, for lack of a better term, to be rough on my Christian sensitivities. Okay, I’m old and old-fashioned, hopelessly tradition-bound, even still somewhat pietistic (blame my parents, Sunday School teachers, whatever), but I did not enjoy having to eat so much spinach to get to the morsel of banket. The highly-touted prayer, lovely as it was, seemed oddly out of place, like a pearl in a pigsty.

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