By Rachel Koning Beals
Leonardo DiCaprio has spent and raised at least $100 million to slow climate change in the more than 20 years since suffering his own man-versus-nature defeat in the blockbuster “Titanic.”
From Capitol Hill to red carpets, the Oscar winner has demanded action to save sacred spaces, curb deforestation and shun fossil fuels . In November, he had the attention of global leaders who converged at the U.N.’s Glasgow summit , drawing tempered acknowledgement for his less-wasteful commercial flight over private .
Now he’s in “Don’t Look Up,” a climate-change feature film billed as satirical sci-fi, that perhaps surprisingly doesn’t once mention the climate or global warming. All the critical attention on the film is on the allegory, with the movie’s fictional killer comet playing the barely veiled role of the real-life climate crisis. And DiCaprio, who walked the New York red carpet for the premiere of the Netflix Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202353025/composite NFLX +7.65% offering in early December, along with its robust roster of stars, sounds as confident in this formula calling for change as with any one-on-ones with presidents.
“It’s really hard to reinvent the wheel as far as articulating the science of the climate crisis,” DiCaprio told reporters on the red carpet Dec. 5. “What [writer and director Adam McKay] did here was he created a sense of urgency, and we all wanted to be a part of a movie that, from an artistic standpoint, shifted the paradigm and made us start having conversations.”
McKay, speaking at the premiere, shed the allegorical disguise completely.
“Right this second, the livable atmosphere is collapsing. We’re literally living in the movie. And if we don’t take immediate action, billions of people are going to die and we’re going to see this civilization collapse,” McKay told The Hollywood Reporter .
In the dark comedy, the global-scale threat of extinction takes shape as a comet headed directly toward Earth. Two low-level astronomers, Dr. Randall Mindy, played by DiCaprio, and his PhD. candidate, Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence in her first film role in some three years), discover and try to get everyone — anyone — to take the threat seriously.
The two scientists take their evidence of the threat to the president — played by who else than Meryl Streep — and the president’s son (that’s Jonah Hill) an interaction that kicks off a political and media fumble that real-life climate-change scientists, public-policy advocates and reporters say echoes their experience.
Cate Blanchett, Ariana Grande (acting and contributing an original song), Tyler Perry and Timothée Chalamet are but a few more notables on this film’s pedigreed call sheet .
“Don’t Look Up” opened in select theaters Dec. 10 and streams on Netflix beginning Dec. 24.
The scientific adviser on “Don’t Look Up,” Dr. Amy Mainzer, had sway in the actual orbit of the comet portrayed on screen, and also on dialogue about the role of activism in the halls of science.
She, McKay, and producer Kevin Messick said the dark script should still leave viewers with a residual of hope.
“There are plenty of actions that we can take that will help mitigate against the worst effects of climate change, but it really is up to us as a society to jump in with both feet and really tackle the problem,” Mainzer told The Hollywood Reporter. “We need to do it now. So, it is extremely important not to lose hope and just get out there and do the work.”
McKay, who co-wrote 2015’s “The Big Short” screenplay, based on Michael Lewis’s book about the housing and credit default crisis, made the point that much of the science and technology — renewable energy /zigman2/quotes/205740995/composite ICLN +4.91% , carbon capture and carbon removal , among other efforts meant to thwart climate change — are at hand.
But scaling such solutions is seemingly undermined by political sabotage.
“We just don’t have the will or awareness because we’re spiraling off into our clique culture and chasing bright lights,” he said. “That science is out there, but it requires everyone to realize this is a billion times bigger than any other concern you have, and that’s just not happening in our culture.”
Though he has taken some executive action, President Joe Biden has linked much of his climate efforts to a major spending bill that is still slowly working through Congress and has been reduced from original targets.