It’s 2015 and I am working an overnight shift at my minimum wage McDonald’s job. It’s 5 am when the newspapers arrive as I down another shot of espresso that I add a lot of sugar to because I don’t like the taste of coffee yet. I throw out about fifteen burgers that I am not allowed to give away to the homeless man outside and not allowed to take myself. I drop at least a hundred of those bags on the ground which I promptly throw into the garbage along with the restaurants recycling because it takes too long to recycle at McDonald’s. The newspaper was dropped off at my store and I read through it…the only thing I looked forward to on the overnight shift. The top article of the Hamilton Spectator reads “Eco-Anxiety Comes for The Next Generation”. This is the first time I realized the gravitas of the situation surrounding youth mental health and climate change. I felt like I had been shot in the stomach.
Jennifer Lawrence, Leonardo DiCaprio, Timothée Chalamet, Meryl Streep, and Jonah Hill are just some of the major stars that were featured in the 2021 film Don’t Look Up. This apocalyptic dark comedy with dark political commentary was not your typical climate change film, which usually consists of footage of animals dying while a British man narrates. The film is about a young woman named Kate (Jennifer Lawrence) who discovers a comet that will destroy Earth and her journey following. We watch Kate and her professor Dr. Randy Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) attempt to warn politicians and the public about this immediate danger, but no one seems to care. They’d rather care about being re-elected, or power, or money. Starting to sound familiar? Within a few minutes of the film, you can recognize it is really about climate change and it is terrifying.
While the film had some hilarious scenes, mostly involving the President of the United States (Meryl Streep) and her son (Jonah Hill), it also made me depressed for a solid two weeks (although the lack of sunlight was not helping).
Now, there’s so much to discuss with this movie. Like the hypocrisy of the producers for creating a film that comments on the incorrect perception of women as crazy in the media while simultaneously paying their lead women-identifying actor 5 million dollars less than her male counterparts despite her having more screen time. Or, maybe the fact that it fails to recognize environmental racism and other intersectional approaches. Or maybe the fact that advocates and activists for climate change have never felt so represented on screen. But I want to do justice to these topics, so let’s focus on mental health.
Don’t Look Up shook me to my core. It grabbed me by the shoulders and wrestled me to the ground until I tapped out. I remember watching it and crying in my bed for the rest of the night with my hand over my heart taking deep breaths, trying to prevent my impending anxiety attack. This chilling, hard-hitting movie left me wondering if this could be my reality. Is this really the true state of affairs that exists in the Western world? The metaphors, motifs and parodies hit too close to home, causing me to question everything. How much longer will I live? Do I even want to bring children into this world? Why does no one listen? Why are we so greedy? What’s the purpose of power and money and politics if there is no inhabitable world left to live on?
And this isn’t just my reality; I am sure it’s yours as well. Generation Z is coping with insurmountable eco-anxiety as we open our social media every day to only be faced with headlines of natural disasters, regressive environmental policy, and oil spills. Although I think we need a shock to our system every once in a while, I am a big believer in having hope. I know, I sound naive. But without hope, I cannot get myself out of bed, never mind writing this article. It’s so easy to be caught up in the hustle and bustle of life, I get it. But the people we vote for, the businesses we support, the interactions we have every day do have an impact. Even if it’s only microscopic. But change doesn’t come fast. Even overnight revolutions take years of anger build up before it bursts. Change is slow-moving. Change is not my sexually conservative grandma seeing her beloved Miley Cyrus swinging on a wrecking ball on TV, but my grandma’s slow acceptance and eventually return of love for Miley Cyrus (she loves singing The Climb and Wrecking Ball now).
The world is trying to catch up with you and you just have to help it along. Although Don’t Look Up is our reality, I like to think the ending is a warning rather than a promise.
If you need mental health resources for eco-anxiety or other related mental health issues, please reach out to Queen’s Student Wellness Services.