despite their success, films about climate catastrophe do not force change

After the release on Netflix the film don’t look up, which recounts the discovery by two astronomers of a planet-killing comet heading straight for Earth, is seen as a metaphor for the looming climate crisis. A thinly disguised satire on the inaction of elites, whether political, economic or media, in the face of global warming despite the warnings of scientists.

If there is growing anxiety in public opinion about the climate crisis, it is clear that part of the population in France and elsewhere is resisting messages and realities that they do not want to hear. In the film, until a comet appears in the sky, Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence do not obey, they are even ridiculed or yelled at by the majority.

The climate crisis is not a “catastrophe” that will hit everyone at once

This is where the comparison with the climate crisis ends. Unlike this “cosmic denial,” it’s not enough to look up to watch climate change. “Not all climate knowledge is available, explains Yannick Rumpala, professor of political science and expert on the relationship between science fiction and politics. There is no exact date, and there is still debate about the extent of the impact of these shocks. With biodiversity, the situation is even worse: for example, no one can predict when bees will disappear. » Even if the existence of this element necessary for biodiversity is under threat.

Thus, unlike a comet in don’t look up, which will crash to Earth 6 months and 14 days after its discovery, the climate crisis is not a “catastrophe” that will fall on all of us at once. On the scale of human life, the upheavals that occur occur slowly, as Natasha Was-Deires, a writer and utopian scholar, has summed up, who compares it to “a frog that you would put in a pot of hot water. We see how it changes color and slowly dies.

Responding to questions from the American press, Adam McKay, the director of the film, admitted that his intention was to support the comparison between the comet and global warming in order to attract viewers’ attention. By showing his film on the Netflix platform, to which a quarter of Americans subscribe, he made sure to reach a wide audience. And yet, like other eco-fiction before it, don’t look up did not lead to an explosion of mobilization. Displaying on a screen, no matter how small, the risks we face, does not convince us to change our way of life.

Science fiction at the top of the box office

A paradoxical phenomenon, since disaster scenarios are popular in Hollywood or in bookstores. Mid-January, less than a month after release don’t look up the platform has amassed 360 million watch hours, the second-best result in its history. “I’m not sure that don’t look up something will change judge Yannick Rumpala, author From the ruins of the world (Champ Wallon, 2018). The signals of the climate crisis are piling up year after year, and we are not seeing more action to combat it. »

In his work, the researcher cataloged many films with environmental overtones that have appeared on our screens since the second half of the 20th century. It is almost trite to say that science fiction has become predominantly alarmist or pessimistic. The same figures are repeated and repeated to such an extent that they are often no longer surprising. If we take green sun, released in 1973, however, it was not a big success.he concludes. Iconic for a generation, this sci-fi film by Richard Fleischer depicts a world where nature disappears, plankton dies, and the greenhouse effect is hot for 365 days a year.

When does fantasy become reality? “The example of Soleil vert shows the extent to which there is a gap between the publication of a work of art and its application in reality, Natasha Vas-Deires continues. Almost 50 years later, we realize that the catastrophic consequences of industrialization for the planet, described in the film, are becoming a reality. » Same for TV series Chernobyl (2019), whose success came years after the aftermath of the 1986 nuclear explosion. “At the time when the disaster happened, people could not do anything.the researcher recalls. Scientists who warned about the dangers of radiation were embroiled in bureaucratic red tape by the administration. »

“Reality is less of a concern when you watch a doomsday movie”

If works of apocalyptic fiction, in addition to their success, do not necessarily lead to awareness at the time of their release, they may even become a brake on action. “Fiction literature performs not only a warning function. It also has a cathartic function, describes Yannick Rumpala. There is also an encouraging side, a habit. Reality is less disturbing when you watch a doomsday movie. Psychological work on this topic shows that these entertainments can even produce the opposite of their original purpose and discourage the viewer. As if looking death in the eyes, he consoled himself with the repetition “let’s celebrate while we can, until the end of the world.” »

Movie Interstellar (2014) by Christopher Nolan has a hopeful side because the reality is less serious these days: we don’t live under gusts of sand and can only grow corn.

“All the misfortunes of people come from one thing that does not know how to remain still in a room.”, has already been noted by the philosopher Blaise Pascal (1623-1662). Indeed, according to researcher Natasha Vas-Deires, “Entertainment allows for a form of denial because it’s too hard to look death in the eye.” This, in her opinion, is one of the main reasons for the success of apocalyptic fiction in box office. While looking don’t look up some would have known about the current crisis, the film, like most Hollywood blockbusters, does not call for collective mobilization of citizens.

As is often the case in doomsday fiction filmed across the Atlantic, salvation is in the hands of only one. There is always this hero saving the planet or, more ironically, as in don’t look upthis survivor who emerges from the rubble after the end credits and whose first instinct is… to take a selfie.

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