The Ending of 'Don't Look Up' Leans into the Apocalypse

It's the end of the world as we know it.

don't look up

This post contains spoilers for Don't Look Up.

Picture this. You've just finished your Christmas dinner, and you're looking for something to watch. Hey, there's a new comedy on Netflix starring Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Meryl Streep, Jonah Hill, and, perplexingly, Ariana Grande. That will take your mind off the apocalypse, right? Well, no. Of course not.

Adam McKay'sDon't Look Up attempts to remind us of everything that's wrong with American life. Often, it seems like a sketch written by your MSNBC-loving boomer dad, only intermittently effective as it skews the public's desire for spectacle and misinformation. That is, until the end, when it leans fully into the doom. Don't Look Up is a completely hopeless movie. Consider yourself warned.

The plot of Don't Look Up kicks off when Lawrence's Kate Dibiasky, a PhD candidate at Michigan State, comes across a new comet. It's all celebration until she and her professor—DiCaprio's against-type, anxiety-ridden Dr. Randall Mindy—do the calculations and realize the space rock's trajectory is headed right toward Earth. Naturally, no one cares. After alerting NASA's Planetary Defense Coordination Office, Kate, Randall, and Dr. Teddy Oglethorpe (Rob Morgan) are shipped off to tell the president (Meryl Streep), a chain-smoking quasi-Trump with pictures of Steven Seagal in her office. The commander-in-chief doesn't care about mass death unless it affects her politically, so the truth-telling threesome decide to alert the media. Except when Kate and Randall appear on The Daily Rip, a Morning Joe rip-off hosted by Tyler Perry and a contoured Cate Blanchett, Kate's genuine terror is labeled hysteria and she becomes a meme. Randall, meanwhile, is branded a sex symbol because, well, he's played by Leo.

The whole movie continues apace. Every time it seems like Kate, Randall, and Teddy might be making progress convincing at least some people in power to pay attention to the planet's imminent destruction, they are thwarted. By the end, a tech billionaire (Mark Rylance with fake teeth) has convinced the president to let him mine the comet for resources at the last possible second, the idea being that he'll both save the world and make himself very rich. The plan does not go well.

For a movie that's pitched at a high volume for most of its two-hour running time, McKay lets things quiet down in the final couple of minutes. Realizing there's nothing more they can do, Kate, Randall, and Teddy go to Randall's house, where he reunites with his wife (Melanie Lynskey). It being the end of the world and all, she forgives him for cheating on her with Blanchett's frisky TV host. Along with Randall's sons and Kate's new boyfriend, an evangelical punk kid named Yule (Timothée Chalamet), they share stories, drink wine, and even pray. And then the comet hits. McKay stays on the dinner scene as the ground starts to shake and the walls are ripped from the house. Yes, all these characters are going to die, just like we all are, and you're going to have to accept it.

Most of Don't Look Up is a frantic satire of the U.S. response to climate change and COVID denial that resists any subtlety and barely gives its characters chances to grow. But its final, unsettling conclusion is more impactful than any of the hullabaloo that comes before it. Its message is stark: Unless we actually start listening, we're all going to die. And even if we do, we're probably going to die anyway.

McKay doesn't let that powerful moment linger for long, though. He adds not one but two post-credit scenes that show the continuing adventures of the rich and powerful, who escape (or don't) on a jet headed for another planet. These bits mirror the downer theme, but their silliness undercuts what McKay managed to pull off just a few moments earlier.

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.