Oscar-winning “The Big Short” and “Vice” filmmaker Adam McKay is back with a new film and his most robust ensemble yet, but for his Netflix satire “Don’t Look Up” McKay pulls a bit more from his earlier comedy career helming films like “Anchorman” and “Step Brothers.” The dark comedy stars Leonardo DiCaprio, Jennifer Lawrence and Rob Morgan as a trio of scientists who have discovered that a comet is barreling towards Earth in what’s called an “extinction-level event.” They set about convincing the powers that be, from the President of the United States to the American media, that the world will end if we don’t act quickly, but are met with resistance at every turn.
But “Don’t Look Up” isn’t actually about a comet. Below, we break down the film’s ending, its overarching metaphor, and even how the credits scenes drive home the bleak theme at the center of the film.
Warning: Spoilers for “Don’t Look Up” follow below, obviously.
Why the Mission to Destroy The Comet Is Abandoned
At the midpoint of the film, Dr. Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) is now working for President Janine Orlean (Meryl Streep) as her chief science advisor, but just as a mission to break the comet up into a bunch of smaller pieces launches, tech giant Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance) steps into the situation room and demands to see the president outside. The mission is abruptly aborted, with the spaceships literally turning around in a hilarious display of backtracking.
Isherwell then explains to a room full of the president’s advisors (including Mindy) that his own team of experts have discovered that the comet is made up of precious resources worth $32 trillion. So this is why the mission was abandoned – because Isherwell as his team at BASH instead want to use their own spacecraft to mine the comet for profit before destroying it, with the clock ticking.
Big Tech Tries to Save the World… and Make Money
This turn of events creates a schism between Mindy and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence), but as BASH’s new initiative turns the country against itself – with Orlean launching a literal “Don’t Look Up” campaign against destroying the comet and in favor of “the jobs the comet will create” – Mindy has second thoughts, and suffers a full-on breakdown on the news program The Daily Rip reminiscent of the film “Network.”
Eventually, Mindy and Dibiasky find each other again as the comet becomes visible in the night sky and work together with Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) to support an alternative mission to break up the comet. All the while, BASH prepares to launch its own mission to mine the comet (despite the fact that Mindy raised concerns about their ships).
But when word comes down that a joint-mission between India, Russia and China to deflect the comet has literally exploded with hours to go before impact, humanity’s hope comes down to the success or failure of BASH’s mission.
Mindy, Dibiasky and a young man named Yule (Timothee Chalamet) make their way to Mindy’s home so he can reconnect with his wife (Melanie Lynskey) and children, while the BASH mission readies for launch.
Except as the BASH mission begins, it becomes clear that Mindy’s concerns were founded – some of the ships start exploding mid-air on launch, and the ones that make it to the comet malfunction and explode or crash into one another. The mission is a failure. Orlean and Isherwell excuse themselves from the command center and secretly board a plane to a private spaceship that will take them off of Earth safely, because of course they’ll make it out of this alive. Orlean calls Mindy to offer him a seat on the plane, but he declines. And as the plane is taking off, Orlean realizes she forgot her son Jason (played by Jonah Hill) back at the command center.
It’s the End of the World As We Know It
With BASH’s mission defunct, the world is now coming to a certain end. The final scenes of the film are of Mindy, Dibiaski, Yule, Oglethorpe and Mindy’s family having a nice quiet dinner together. The house starts to rattle, but they continue making idle conversation, keeping the topics light as their impending doom approaches. The final words spoken are from Mindy: “We really did have everything, didn’t we? I mean, when you think about it.” The house breaks apart in slow motion, and the world ends. Everyone dies.
It’s a Metaphor for Climate Change, Obviously
If for some reason the signposts weren’t crystal clear, the entirety of “Don’t Look Up” is about the climate crisis facing our planet. The comet is the impending doom brought about by climate change, and the characters are only slightly exaggerated versions of what’s happening in real life – scientists being told to “sit tight and assess”; the news media becoming more wrapped up in a celebrity breakup than the fate of the world; major corporations squeezing every ounce of profit regardless of what it means for the future of the planet.
And the ending is clearly McKay’s warning that if we don’t act quickly, if we continue to ignore the comet heading our way, that is our fate – the end of the world as we know it.
The Bleak Credits Scene, Explained
Even the “Don’t Look Up” credits scene drives home the dark themes at the center of the film. It cuts to 22,000 years in the future and shows the spaceship that Orlean and Isherwell boarded, which is also populated by titans of industry – executives of banks, oil companies and lobbying firms all made it off of Earth alive, despite the fact that they likely contributed to its downfall. This is McKay doubling down on his pessimistic outlook on the fight against climate change, as those with wealth and power are unlikely to feel its effects as severely as those of meager means (if at all). Actions have consequences, except for the ultra-rich.
In the credits scene, the rich folks wake from cryosleep and deplane fully nude on a habitable planet where they’re destined to restart the human race. Except Orlean, who walks up to an alien creature and is immediately mauled to death. “I believe that’s called a Bronteroc,” Isherwell says in a callback to when BASH predicted how Orlean would die.
But Wait, There’s One More Credits Scene
There’s also a short post-credits scene at the end of the film, which takes place on a destroyed Earth. Up from a pile of rubble comes Jason, who somehow has survived the comet’s impact. He calls out for his mother, then records a social media video. “What’s up, y’all? I’m the last man on Earth,” Jason says before signing off with, “Don’t forget to like and subscribe.”