There's no way to open your eyes anymore

Image: Irina Iriser
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By EUGENIO BUCCI*

The film “Don't look up” is a ferocious diagnosis of the evil that has been eating away at what we once call civilization from within.

The State kneels down to capital and still wags its tail. Science, in order to make itself heard, needs to send representatives to celebrity programs on television, where it competes for space with the most vile sensationalism and the most frivolous frivolities. Politics has lost the ties it once had to rational argument; now, if you want to reach audiences, you have to hire Boeotian singers, albeit in tune, and package your message in tearful verses and predictable melodies. This is how humanity walks – towards extinction.

In short, this is the essential message of the film, recently released in Brazil, don't look up, directed by Adam McKay. We are talking here about the most momentous subject of the end of year festivities. In these times of deadening civic senses, people entertain each other by “posting” comments about overproduction. It is a Christmas fever, more contagious than other fevers, to which society decides to turn a blind eye at once.

It's not for less. In the plot, two scientists (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) discover that a comet - actually a mineral block with almost ten kilometers in length - will collide with Earth and destroy life on the planet. They try to explain the cataclysm to the President of the United States (Meryl Streep), but the conversation does not prosper. The ruler does not disguise her annoyance and declares herself tired of people who come to her announcing the end of the world. So, she says she needs to wait for the elections to decide what to do.

The two astronomers are stunned, but they don't give up. Disobeying the White House's express instructions, they decide to give an interview to a television news program that mixes amenities and atrocities to capture the audience. The result is an embarrassing fiasco, a national laughingstock.

The comet is approaching, with its dizzying speed, while the plot evolves at a pace that mixes tragedy and comedy, romance and catastrophe, satire and fable, thriller and dystopia. The spectator does not disgrace. Maybe it lacks realism here or there, maybe it lacks verisimilitude, but the general plan has strength, magnetism and convincing power. If you haven't seen it yet, see it running, even if it's just to be able to hunch over New Year's Eve conversations. (There's no doubt that on New Year's Eve, when over-the-sight sales will trump mouth and nose masks, the success of the season will be on the agenda.)

festivities aside, don't look up it is one of the most acidic portraits of the culture of our days. It deserves to be seen with redoubled attention. More than one blockbuster, is a ferocious diagnosis of the evil that has been eating away at what we already call civilization from within.

The film's problem has nothing to do with comets, asteroids or meteorites – these celestial bodies only serve as a scenic and dramatic pretext. The central problem is the madness of the methods by which democratic society makes its decisions. It is as if the spectacular images that light up everywhere do not open up our vision of what is happening in reality, but rather blind us. It's as if we were all enclosed in a new Plato's Cave, whose walls are made of electronic screens.

Seriously ill, society and the State have lost the ability to listen to science – science only gains credit when the researcher is sexy. Capital, for its part, only has ears for its own scientists, those who are paid to speak the “scientific truths” that legitimize profit and accumulation. If these “truths” happen to come into conflict with the minimum conditions for preserving life on the planet, well, the life that waits, even dying.

Don't look up comes to tell us exactly that. The US president is treated as a subordinate by her main campaign financier, tycoon Peter Isherwell (Mark Rylance). A cross between Tim Cook and Elon Musk, Peter Isherwell is a monopolist in the super-industry dedicated to extracting our personal data. He walks in whenever he wants into any White House meeting. He has no limits. He gives orders to the head of state. He admits of no contestation. At the most critical time, he orders an abort to a space mission commanded directly by the government and determines that the “studies” of his private scientists prevail over the plans of the NASA.

Politics failed. All that remains for anyone who wants to criticize state immobility and capitalist greed is to appeal to the stars of show business, portrayed as alienated with a pretty face. Politics is but a minor pigeonhole within the entertainment industry. Complete end of line.

Finally, it is worth registering a whimsical self-irony here: Don't look up criticizes entertainment, but it is also a lucrative commodity within this super-industry. Thus, and only thus, can humanity still laugh at itself.

* Eugene Bucci He is a professor at the School of Communications and Arts at USP. Author, among other books, of The superindustry of the imaginary (Authentic).

Originally published in the newspaper The State of São Paulo.

 

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