Don’t Look Up, Look Within

I wonder if the directors and producers of the Netflix movie “Don’t Look Up” deliberately wanted to leave their audience with a feeling of being stuck and powerless because it’s that experience which drives us to seek some powerful solutions.

Although this movie was well done as art, like many pop-apocalyptic stories, I believe it was limited to the adrenaline-driven (and therefore lucrative) opening of what could have been a constructive call to “the more beautiful world our hearts know is possible” (title of a book by Charles Eisenstein). Which raises the question, why did I, or anyone else, enjoy watching this movie? Why is it so popular?

I know there are lots of good reasons to like the film for all its pointed jabs at media and government, and I thought to myself immediately after watching it, “Well done!” When a similar dark comedy about nuclear armageddon, “Dr. Strangelove,” came out in 1964, I thought it was terrific and years later I even bought the DVD. After many years and a recent re-watching, it now seems to me tragic and incomplete, as is “Don’t Look Up” when I reflected on how it triggered my despair.

I would encourage everyone who watches this movie to write down all their thoughts and feelings on paper — not just pop off 10 words on Facebook — so they have a chance of moving through and beyond their stuck points, such as the grief of anticipated extinction, or endless outrage at the corporate-media-government complex, or even the sadistic pleasure of knowing certain people are just wrong.

What controversy is this movie spinning into overdrive? I read a polarized review of the movie written from a far-right perspective that laughed at the “leftist” notions of trustworthy science and environmental collapse contained in the movie. I consider the movie to be part of the problem because it stirred the pot and quit. It did not go deeper into our motivations for collaborating on solutions, and it did not present a vision of a healthy planet.

We need to look within ourselves for a happier ending — not an unrealistic fantasy but some deeply satisfying honesty about ourselves and what we can learn from this movie, beyond pointing fingers of blame, beyond yelling and screaming.

“Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing
and rightdoing there is a field.
I’ll meet you there.”
~ Rumi

For me, the potent and unstated truth of the movie (about which I have yet to see a thoughtful discussion) is the stubborn denial and avoidance by all of the characters of our basic human need for the authentic communication — the honesty — which creates collaboration, empathy and security. Our nearly universal, culturally-imposed denial of that need is the laughable and supremely tragic object lesson of this satire.

The attempts to break through that denial by all the strategies demonstrated in the movie may seem to ennoble the protagonists, yet the overwhelming conclusion is that those efforts failed, conveying the kind of empty feeling I choose not to carry. To be honest, I prefer romantic comedies, and a constructive call to action — a tangible, user-friendly, measurable, do-able plan for authentic communication — would thrill me more than any comedy.

A script writer who wants to inspire permanent behavior change will motivate their audience with a description of “the problem” as only 10% of their message, and satire could very well be used for that part. Connecting the goal to the audience’s deeper motivations, the self-examination part, would be another 10%. Re-framing the problem, digging into the roots of the problem, to activate tangible, long-term, user-friendly strategies based in a sense of belonging is the remaining 80%. For more information about this analysis, see the Institute of Noetic Sciences course, Consciousness, Communication & Change.

Satire, or sarcasm, is a form of hatred coming from a mistaken position of separation. We all, myself included, have been culturally hypnotized to accept individualism as a fact of life. The resulting hatred resonates with or upsets so many people that I believe it to be a sign of our extremely rapid global progress from saint-ego (Trump) to philosopher-charlatan (Biden, Musk) to disillusionment (mass burglaries, shootings, riots, refugees), all of which seem to be the necessary precursors to that moment of humility at the conclusion of the worst possible dark night of our collective souls when “all hell breaks loose.”

That is the hopeless moment at which “Don’t Look Up” ends, necessitating a sequel, maybe called “Look Within,” in which the protagonists humbly and honestly review their trauma history and repressed desire for revenge, then consciously decide to heal themselves, integrate themselves into the world as it is, and live with all the dignity and vitality that comes with being fully present.

In that scenario, when we all contribute our small perspective to build a larger communal one, a surprising plan of creative action that integrates all views will spontaneously emerge. It is the counterbalance to satire. It is the future, and it is coming faster than most of us can believe.

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