Monday, May 21, 2018

Downsizing: A Satire that Can Be Fun but also Dark

Movie Review: Downsizing (2017)
Version: Library Blu-Ray borrow

Downsizing is a social satire on the moment in which humanity realizes it cannot sustain its assault on the natural world. The story takes on life in the form of Paul Safranek (played affably by Matt Damon), who with his wife Audrey (played by Kristen Wiig) decide to join the downsizing movement, which seeks to reduce its environmental impact by becoming physically much smaller, thus reducing the size of its needs and the refuse it puts into the environment. All is going well as Paul and Audrey sell off their normal-scale belongings and prepare to downsize, right up until the moment the organization doing the downsizing shaves off all their bodily hair. Suddenly, Audrey isn't so sure about her commitment to the movement and, not coincidentally, Paul. But Paul doesn't find out until he has been irreversibly reduced to five inches tall.

Waking up in the much smaller world nude and vulnerable and concerned that Audrey isn't by his side as promised, Paul receives a phone call. It's Audrey. As her hair is being shaved and a single eyebrow has been removed, she realizes she has been doing this for Paul and what she really wants is to do something for her self. This sends Paul for a loop. What does she mean, she was doing it for Paul? They were in this together. And doing something for herself? What about him? But alas, it's too late and now Paul is on his own.

Paul is taken to his new home, a gigantic mansion -- now for one. But Audrey sues for divorce. When they sold off their assets it translated into much greater value in the smaller world, but now that is reduced severely with the settlement and Paul finds himself living in a small apartment, alone. He tries dating, meeting a single woman whom he invites to his unimpressive new home. But the neighbor upstairs is throwing a party, and it's too noisy for an intimate dinner. Asking the neighbor to tone it down, Paul meets Dusan Mirkovic (played by Christoph Waltz), a bon vivant character who has learned how to profit from the downsizing movement. And who, incidentally, has connections to the leader of the downsizing movement in Norway, Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen.

Invited to one of Mirkovic's parties, Paul meets figures from around the world who have joined the downsizing movement, and he is encouraged to join Mirkovic on a trip to Norway to meet Asbjørnsen. They make the journey, which takes them to the original downsized village, where they discover there is bad news: not enough people have joined the downsizing movement and global warming has resulted in the melting of the Arctic permafrost, releasing historic amounts of methane, which will result in a huge extinction event. The only way for humanity to survive is for the colony to retreat to a secure facility deep in the mountains, and Paul is invited to join them. Thus, Paul has a life-changing decision to make.

Early in Downsizing, this is a fun film, the screenwriters and director and crew envision a world in which people are made small and what life might be like that tiny. And how small people might live side by side with big people. Matt Damon is perfect in the role as Paul, doing his best to get along in life to make things better for others. But the story begins to take a dark turn when Audrey changes her mind, then divorces him, and his new life turns sour. Even when he meets Ngoc Lan Tran (played by Hong Chau), Mirkovic's apartment cleaner, and falls in love with her, there are bitter aspects to their story, keeping the story dark despite turns of humor. In the ending, it is deeply dark as we find out that Earth is struggling for survival.

As I said, Downsizing is a social satire. This film is a satire about humanity's struggle and often failure to do the right things. When they most count, humans often do what is best for themselves, as the character Audrey does, leaving in their wake those who live more largely by doing what is best for the whole, as the downsizing colony had been trying to do. Caught in the middle are those who try make the right decisions to make the world a better place.

This can be a depressing film watched to its end. Don't see it thinking it will be all fun. Do watch it for its message as warning about the future of our planet, however, because we are surely headed for an environmental apocalypse. There just isn't any way to downsize people to reduce their environmental footprint, and likely they wouldn't if given a choice anyway. Perhaps this film is more real thematically than we can imagine.

I give Downsizing enthusiastic thumbs-up for imagination. The juxtaposition between small and large worlds is fun, and the bit about shaving big people before and exposing their vulnerability is very interesting. However, it was a little strange to see how small Paul's apartment was only to see him go upstairs one floor and see how expansive Mirkovic's apartment was -- that looked like a plot hole. And as satire can be, it seemed a bit preachy under the surface. I get the idea, but are you willing to sit through a film with a message?

To recap, Downsizing is initially a fun story about people downsizing to save the planet that turns dark and depressing at the end. It has definite fun moments, but you may have to fight to stick with it to the end.

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