Fiction Mirroring Reality: Modern Cinema, Politics and Apathy

Don't Look Up reflecting modern politics in an all to realist manner // Credit: Netflix

Regardless of what some may say, film has always dealt with politics. Today we are looking at common political themes across two recent movies. Specifically, we will look at the themes presented in films like Don’t Look Up and Leave The World Behind. Along with analysing why these messages are speaking to viewers. Firstly though, let’s give a brief overview of both movies.

Looking and Leaving

Don’t Look Up follows a group of scientists trying to warn everyone about a comet that will destroy the world. Only to find that American media is too interested in distracting the public, politicians are too willing to delay acting so that they can eventually use the situation to favour them electorally and billionaires use the situation to test hastily created tech which hasn’t been peer-reviewed. All of which eventually results in the world ending.

Leave The World Behind sees a family escaping the city for the country when strange things start happening. They witness an oil tanker running aground, the internet going out, the TV not picking up signals and the father and daughter who supposedly own the house (though they don’t have ID) turn up at the door. All of which puts them on edge as they try to navigate what is going on. By the end, we are not sure if the US is being invaded, if this was down to hackers, a satellite fault or all or none of the above. The only certainty is that humanity has been decimated physically and mentally by the technology we rely on.

As of April 28th this year both films are among Netflix’s most popular English-language films.

Leave The World Behind
Leave The World Behind // Credit: Netflix

Where Fiction Meets Reality

Despite their differences, both films have several common themes. They talk about how little the world is prepared for disaster. They mistrust how pivotal modern technology is to our lives, particularly those fronted by high-profile self-obsessed billionaires. While also acting as critiques of American policy (both domestic and overseas).

And given many recent events like Western politicians continually backtracking on climate pledges despite much of the world already feeling its effects, the disasters brought about by products owned by high-profile people like Elon Musk, US politicians pushing policies and rhetoric that can put their constituencies at risk and facilitating imperialist actions like backing the alleged genocide in Gaza, it’s easy to see why the films would continue to speak to audiences.

But both these films also showcase something else, apathy. 

Apathy in Film and Politics

Don’t Look Up mainly focuses on the apathy of politicians, who are portrayed as only caring about serving people when the situation can benefit them. Meanwhile, Leave The World Behind reflects the apathy of general people (or at least a subsection who can afford to get away at the drop of a hat) towards politics. The film’s central family only becomes concerned with the wider world when events and people intrude on their lives. Never recognising that for other communities (like people of colour) politics is something that affects them all the time.

Recently stories like the US President finally paying attention to the tragedy that happened in East Palestine due to it now being an election year and the marginally shifting rhetoric from some politicians regarding Gaza because of threats to their job security, among many others, have shown the clear apathy of politicians to people’s safety. Plus the move to neuter trade union activity and the bids to demonise Palestine marches helps to further insulate people privileged enough to be apathetic about the state of the world. Both films hit the nail on the head when it comes to capturing political apathy in a way reflective of real life and given the stake so many people have in politics its easy for many to see their fears laid out plainly in these narratives, which could be a factor in their success.


Don’t Look Up and Leave The World Behind speak about many big political fears today. But the theme that underpins both stories is the lack of care for how political decisions impact others. And given how reflective they seem of real-world attitudes it’s easy to see why they remain popular.

Also Read: ‘American Psycho’ to ‘The L Word’: Guinevere Turner Details Her Transformative Storytelling

Posted by
Josh Greally

Writer and filmmaker. I have a masters in directing film and television and have written film reviews for several smaller sites in the past. Films are my life, but I also enjoy writing, reading, listening to music and debating.