I watched Don’t Look Up the other day. This is an unusual occurrence. I have steadfastly refused to learn how to operate my home entertainment system. Because I don’t find it all that entertaining. Mostly degrading and time-wasting and irritatingly inane. Also because I don’t want to fall into the trap of sitting here alone, trying to create community by staring at a screen. If I can’t turn it on, screen watching will always be a communal event. Which is sort of what I think it’s meant to be. Story telling is always better in a gathering.
In any case, I couldn’t have managed this particular movie alone. Needed someone there to laugh at the funny parts and remind me that it’s supposed to be dark humor.
And it is funny. In a “we are such a stupid culture” sort of way. It slaps around our every cherished notion and leaves them all bleeding in a burning Dumpster. No, not all the cherished notions. Surprisingly, when the crisis breaks, this bleak comedy (or happy tragedy?) turns to some deeply unfashionable, dare I say, conservative values. Family. Community and communion. Love. Real connection. Even religion and a prayer to some enduring good beyond ephemeral humans are centered as the impact wipes out everything else.
For that matter, humans are sidelined throughout much of the movie in ways that are more at home in a David Attenborough documentary than a blockbuster production with the top of the A-list in talent. In contrast to the small ugliness of most of the human characters, we are served up dazzlingly bright expanses of hovering bees, nuzzling hippos, flowing waters. Even the planet-killing comet is starkly beautiful. All this, the movie makers are saying, all this is what is destroyed by our navel-gazing idiocy. And look what we get for our self absorption and bad decisions in the pursuit of short-term gain… they supply imagery for this also — garbage, bloody faces, loneliness.
It’s so hyperbolic I can see why suavely urbane critics are annoyed. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that it worked on me. But only almost…
The movie’s reception from people who are paying attention to our real world entangled conflagration is far different. More like mine. In addition to the constant stream of some version of “BRILLIANT!!!” showing up in my social media circles, I’ve read maybe a half dozen reviews that look at the movie in its context and its subtext. Jem Bendell’s is my favorite because he addresses what I saw in this narrative — this movie proves that a large number of people are ready to have our supposed cherished notions slapped around. That we are so very tired of being told what to do and of hearing nothing but cynical “blah, blah, blah” in response to the careening catastrophes that are inexorably heading our way (or already engulfing many of us…).
Hollywood is about as open to risk-taking as an actuarial society. This movie would not be, it would not have been made and made well with all the stops pulled out, if there was a great risk of failure. Or these days even a moderate risk of failure. Film ideas are more thoroughly vetted and test-marketed than presidential candidates. (Much more than a few recent notables…) Netflix knew it had a large, receptive market well before it gave the green light to distribution. Adam McKay does not put his name on flops (which makes this thing all the more interesting). And then… Jennifer Lawrence? Meryl Streep? Leonardo Himself! (In a role that lets him channel his inner nerd so effectively one wonders why the gorgeous television host is attracted to him.) No, this was not a risk. They all knew they would hit a popular nerve — and, with that, pay-dirt.
This washed over me as I was watching. I admit to crying throughout much of it. Not so much in response to the pathos of the plot… though… it would take a much colder person than me not to feel sucker-punched at the image of a smiling baby about to be destroyed by a hubris-fueled comet… However, most of my response was actually to the fact of this movie. That it exists. That it was made. That there are Very Many People out there who want to see this message, are ready for it, are waiting for it. It feels like the start of something. An inflection point. It feels like exhaled relief.
There is no hope of stopping the biophysical disasters we’ve already created. But there is also no reason to continue to make them worse. And this feels like maybe people are ready to stop making it worse. Maybe this is the scene when the comet is still intact and the dutiful tech tosses her headset on the ground, crying out that she wants to be with her husband. Maybe we are ready to throw down the bullshit culture and gather with our real communities and brace for impact.
We might even be ready for a Dumpster fire of formerly cherished notions.
I think this might be the sign. Where Greta Thunberg and Extinction Rebellion and such like are the kindling, this might be the burning brand that spreads the flame. I do so hope this is true. Maybe that hope is clouding my judgement… If so, let me have my happy thoughts today. Just for once, let me believe that Cassandra might have something good to say, however thin that silver lining might be.
But then, it can’t be that thin if it can pay for A-list celebrities.
for 12 January 2022
You can respond in the comments below or make a Twitter post to the Wednesday Word. Either way, begin your response with #enkindling. Your response can be anything made from words. I love poetry, but anything can be poetic and you needn’t even be limited to poetics. An observation, a story, a thought. Might even be an image — however, I am not a visual person, so it has to work harder to convey meaning. In the spirit of word prompts, it’s best if you use the word; but I’m not even a stickler about that. Especially if you can convey the meaning without ever touching the word.
If responding in Twitter, you are limited to the forms of Twitter. I would prefer that there be no threads because that is difficult. So if you have something long, post it in the comments below. That said, please don’t go too long. Keep it under 2000 words. I’m not going to count, but I’m also not promising to read a novel. Unless it’s really good!
If I receive something particularly impressive, I’ll post it next week. If not, well, that’s fine too. I know you all are busy. But if you’ve read this far, then I’ve made you think about… enkindling.
in this darkness a subtle light a lambent viridescence of melting leaf mould and mushroom weathering lignin walls breaking winter’s renitent rules hope’s feathers are fallen but in decay is renaissance in this darkness a sudden light charge discharge and release dragon spring exhalation and close-held breath of relief this static shock resounding redounding on cold reticence with blue-white sparking fury in this darkness a certain light full throated roar of flame kindled dreams of futures bonfire beginning balefire bewitching it becomes us in this breaking darkness and soon the light will not be contained
©Elizabeth Anker 2022