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‘Don’t Look Up,’ a thinly veiled warning about climate change, premieres in New York City

Actor Leonardo DiCaprio attends Netflix's "Don't Look Up" World Premiere on Sunday in New York.Mike Coppola/Getty

“Don’t Look Up,” a new star-studded movie by Adam McKay that was filmed in Boston last year, premiered in New York City’s Jazz at Lincoln Center on Sunday night. The plot, which focuses on a fictional existential risk to humanity, a cutting allegory for climate change, which McKay described as the “greatest story in human history.”

The film stars Leonardo DiCaprio, an outspoken climate advocate and philanthropist, as a neurotic astronomy professor at Michigan State. Jennifer Lawrence — a longtime critic of climate denial – plays his sarcastic young grad student. The two scientists discover that a massive comet will crash into Earth in just six months, threatening all life on the planet. Despite the urgency, neither the government nor the media takes them seriously. Though no one in the film ever mentions the climate crisis, the climate themes lurking just under the surface are hard to miss.


“Climate change has felt, to so many, for a long time, like something in the distant future,” said David Sirota, executive producer of the film who worked with McKay on the storyline. “So the story in this movie is the sped-up version of the existential crisis.”

At the premiere, key figures in the environmental movement stood alongside the Hollywood insiders and press. One was James Hansen, an esteemed climatologist who has been raising the alarm about climate change for decades, and who testified before Congress about the crisis back in 1988. He called the film “a valiant effort” to make the climate crisis, which “evolves on decadal time scales,” interesting and pressing.

“The century climate change time scale must be converted to six months to capture attention of today’s audience, which wants everything fast and brief,” Hansen said.

Nearly 10 years ago, Hansen gave a TED Talk about climate change that compared planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions to “a giant asteroid on a direct collision course with Earth.” It has now been watched hundreds of thousands of times. “I’m not surprised that others have had the same idea,” Hansen said.


Youth climate justice organizers Xiye Bastida and Ayisha Siddiqa were both given VIP passes to the premiere.

“The movie does a very good job of telling things as they are, but also being a movie that is approachable for people, and that people are actually going to see,” said Bastide.

As attendees trailed out after the film, the two young activists stood in the lobby with signs reading “stop the asteroid” and “we still have time,” underscoring the urgency the real crisis we face.

Siddiqa said she was struck by the film’s ending, which isn’t an optimistic one. “The end was so emotionally distressing, to see the end of the Earth,” she said “I thought to myself, how many times will we have to watch the end of the Earth before we do something about this?”

Of course, our climate future isn’t yet decided. “Things are getting worse, but it’s not too late to act.” said Siddiqa. “In real life we’re still sitting in the theatre, but we need to make change immediately.”

Dharna Noor can be reached at dharna.noor@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @dharnanoor.