Can We Talk about that Prayer Scene in ‘Don’t Look Up’?
Dearest father and almighty creator, we ask for your grace tonight, despite our pride. Your forgiveness, despite our doubt. Most of all lord, we ask for your love to soothe us through these dark times. May we face whatever is to come in your divine will with courage and open hearts of acceptance. Amen.
I think most of my interest with this particular scene is with the character Yule. At first he represents the sort of nihilistic despair you often find with Gen Z, having grown up in a world where depression rates are higher than ever, divorce rates too, oh, and financial stress brought on by the likes of student loans and inflation, followed by the cherry on top: climate change and a world that seems too complacent to face it. Like much of Gen Z, he’s over it. Everything’s going to hell, so we might as well live in the present, like a person unjustly condemned to a mental hospital who spends their time painting spectacular sunrises. However, he also represents another side of Gen Z: a strong pull toward the divine or spirituality, just forget the excessively dogmatic institutions and the dualistic thinking. Yule represents the tension between hope and despair (Rather Kierkegaardian of him, too, I might add).
Yule is what someone from the more senile side of the Boomer generation might call a ‘hooligan’, he skates, loiters behind buildings, acts on sexual impulses, and drops the God-forsaken ‘f-bomb’, but then he takes charge and prays and its surprisingly… traditional? One might even find hints of the Protestant reformation fathers. He uses words like grace and forgiveness to speak of God and words like pride and doubt to describe themselves. If this was an intentionally Christian movie, it would be a tired, mechanistic prayer, yet Yule, in all his complexity, is slow to speak, subtle, and quietly calm and poised. The prayer is utterly genuine in all of its simplicity. Yule has reclaimed what was forced on him as a child and turned it into something real.
Yule’s placement in the movie causes the viewer to stop and think, “Oh yeah, the world’s ending, where is God in all of this?” And, while Yule’s prayer leads to this question, it also gives an ambiguous answer. The question of whether or not God intended this to happen is left unanswered. Yet, one things seems clear, that God is present in Yule as a representative of faith and trinitarian Christians likely imagine the Holy Spirit as the bond of love and comfort that is shared between everyone at the table.
Yule and this scene challenges our religious imagination. We are faced with wondering what is God’s responsibility and what is our responsibility in creating the world we want to live in. One thing that separates the dinner/prayer scene from the scenes of how others spent their final moments before destruction is how it shows the human inclination toward a sense of meaning and how the knowledge of our coming death causes us to ponder these things, invites us to grasp what matters most.