Don’t Look Up


A dialogue about a recent film between Rich Fontes and Kimberly Gladman, two people who tend to have very enjoyable long rambling conversations about topics in what she still thinks should be called socially responsible investment.


Kimberly: We’ve talked a lot about this film since you first made the (in my opinion brilliant) suggestion that we include a discussion of it in Epiphany. What do you think the takeaway message is?

Rich: The real message is “Don’t look up, look at each other and see each other.” As we see in the family dinner scene at the very end, while the house is shaking, the oceans are boiling, and everyone is about to die. There was something very meaningful to me in that, that this human connection to another person is the last thing people want when they’re facing the end. We need to do that now, to connect to each other more.

Kimberly: I agree. But people are so angry.

Rich: I am too.

Kimberly: Everybody thinks everyone else is a hypocrite—because we are. The woman who goes to elaborate lengths to avoid buying single-use water bottles seems to think nothing of the environmental impact of her Amazon purchases. But things are set up for it to be hard for her to think about that impact, at the moment when the thought would make a difference.

Rich: That’s the point. It’s hard.

Kimberly: Anyhow, I like this movie because it portrays, via the comet metaphor, what I believe to be the most likely scenario with regard to climate change. Something that is a threat to human survival gets recast as “both a risk and an opportunity”(“mine the comet!”) and then winds up destroying us.  I think I’ll start calling DLU my “reference scenario,” to put it in climate-professional terms.

Rich: For me, the comet mining theme was akin to the current state of ESG investing. “ESG 1.0” suffers from a lack of an acknowledgment that our current tools—both for modern portfolio management and for macro and microeconomic analysis—aren’t helping us facilitate a transition to a just, low carbon economy. Without a significant reengineering of the way markets and investing work, our efforts look on track to be about as successful as BASH’s attempt to extract rare-earth elements from the comet.

Kimberly: The director, McKay, has said he made the film as a dark comedy because he hopes laughter can help people focus on the problem. I think it might:  you laugh and for a moment at least, you stop despairing. And even if you go right back to thinking we’re doomed, maybe you start focusing on what’s important in the time we’ve got left, like you said. Human connections.  But you said at one point you thought McKay was preaching to the choir.

Rich: Yeah, I didn’t feel like the movie moved the needle with climate change skeptics or provided a clear call to action for those who aren’t already integrating sustainability into what they do. But did you notice that Carl Sagan (via a toy made in his likeness) was the first character seen in the movie? I think we need a revival of his approach. I always appreciated how he captured the human imagination and tugged at our heart strings through a deft combination of scientific fact, a sense of wonder, and an acknowledgment of the spirituality of the unknown. Dr. Sagan mobilized an entire generation of young people to become environmentalists and astronomers. It’s very different from “disaster porn” films such as Don’t Look Up. I worry that they don’t win the “hearts and minds” of the people we need to get engaged and, for some, may even accelerate a descent into despair and apathy.

Kimberly:  Wow. “Disaster porn” is a great concept.  We’ll have to come back to that.But just to take a leap while we’re on film:  have you seen the latest Matrix, which I referenced in my publisher’s note?

Rich: Yeah, I loved it. I’m a sucker for movies that explore the power of human relationships and how they shape identity. I loved how Neo and Trinity got a second chance to be together, and how their connection intensifies their “power.” There’s so much to say about how human connections can  free us from prisons of our own making. I also enjoyed the tongue in cheek “meta-narrative” discussions that blurred the fourth wall line, and the inversion of the theme of “The One” against what it means to be “whole.” For me, a film filled with interesting reflections on interesting themes outweighs any mechanical or editorial shortcomings (insert shrug emoji here).

Kimberly: That is a very smart and insightful analysis. I love it. I liked the film too, but for much dumber reasons. I liked it because people my age, who are usually portrayed in the movies as washed up and lame, were portrayed as heroic and sexy. As I said in my publisher’s note:  Neo and Trinity are fifty-something!  She—the actress—is even older than me. And she is specifically referred to in the film as a MILF, and he’s gorgeous in his haggard, exhausted way, and it’s very gratifying for us graying Gen X-ers. Of course one could say that at the end they are being selfish by prioritizing their reunion over the freeing of the rest of humanity. But I prefer to think that the ending is a coded message about pair bonding. About marriage, even, if you will. That if you’re in love you should prioritize that pair bond and make it as strong and happy as possible, because that’s the center from which the two of you, together, will work to benefit the world.  Or maybe I’m just getting sentimental because you’re engaged and I think your fiancé is awesome, from what I know of her.

Rich:  She is awesome, and I love her very much.

Kimberly:  She’s the only person who has ever made me feel hope that we might be able to solve the ocean plastics problem.  That’s quite an achievement.  And she’s an outstanding poet.

Rich: Yes, Megan is an incredible woman. I’m always in awe of Megan’s ability to empathize with people and creatures. Very rarely do you meet someone who you know sees the world very differently than you, and with whom you still find enough common ground to be able to forge an enduring relationship.

Kimberly:  Anyhow I wish we could carry on discussing all kinds of things, including Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul (and Vince Gilligan in general); Taylor Swift (whose Long Pond sessions documentary introduced me to the fascinating cottagecore aesthetic and whose Epiphany single truly captures these COVID times); and what it means that the world’s most prominent trans filmmakers, at the moment, are the Matrix-making Wachowskis (who for some years now have been sisters, but were brothers before that).  However, time and space are short!  We’ll have to carry on next month.

Rich: Agreed; we could do this forever. I’m not sure about you but, much like Haley Joel Osmet’s character in The Sixth Sense, I keep seeing climate change allegories everywhere. Have a watch of The House on Netflix and let me know if you pick up on the subtle climate change themes. Chat soon!

~ Rich Fontes and Kimberly Gladman ~