Sloan Science & Don’t Look Up

A huge comet will hit the earth and destroy all life within months. The good news: It’s a movie, and a metaphor for the climate crisis. Rather than months, in real life we have a few years to fix the problem.

This year’s Sloan Science in Cinema Prize goes to Adam McKay, the writer and director of last year’s terrific dark comedy, Don’t Look Up. Every year, working with SFFILM, Sloan gives an award for a film that teaches science in an entertaining way.

In the winning movie, a large comet will smash into Earth in six months, destroying all life on the planet…unless we can change the comet’s course. But no one seems to take this seriously in Adam McKay’s very dark comedy. The two scientists who discovered the comet (Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence) can’t make people take this problem seriously. The President is no help; she’s a skinnier, female Donald Trump (Meryl Streep). The cast also includes Cate Blanchett, Jonah Hill, Tyler Perry, and Timothée Chalamet. Stay through the credits and you’ll get a treat.

I gave the film an A. It’s available on Netflix.

Pre-COVID, Sloan and SFFILM would host a big event at the Castro, with a screening of the film, followed by a discussion and Q&A. But in our new Zoom world, all we can safely do is a virtual discussion, with the assumption that we’ve all seen the movie.

Sloan’s Doron Weber gave us a quick discussion about the organization and the prize. SFFILM’s Jessie Fairbanks moderated the discussion with astrophysicist Joseph Barranco, filmmaker Adam McKay, and cast member Leonardo DiCaprio.

A few highlights, edited for clarity and brevity:

  • McKay: My dreams can be wild. People all around the world are seeing this. 150 million are watching it on Netflix.
  • DiCaprio: it was like a gift when the script came to me. It was taking on issues in ways that no one else could.
  • Barranco on how likely could this happen? There’s an office at NASA working on this. It might surprise people, but a hundred tons of space debris hits Earth every day. But most of that is microscopic. But big, planet-destroying ones? About once every 60-100 million years.
  • DiCaprio: There were few things I want to do in my life. I wanted to get involved with protecting the natural world. The climate crisis is the largest job this country ever had.
  • McKay: It was cool that I got so many big actors. They really felt that democracy is teetering.
  • DiCaprio: The climate crisis is never mentioned. The movie is really about how we react to bad news.

Audience Q&A:

  • McKay on how to get into filmmaking (from a 12-year-old)? Go to drama class at school. Connect with a local theater. Watch old movies. Accept rejection. If you fall in love with it, keep trying. Enjoy the whole process.
  • Barranco: There is no planet B.
  • Fairbanks: We ignore scientists at our peril.
  • Leo: The problem is complex. We can recycle and so forth. But the most important thing we can do is vote.