Film Reviews

Madhuri reviews Alexander Payne’s 2017 film, played by Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau and Christoph Waltz.

Downsizing poster

At first, this gem of a movie seemed to just be about Matt Damon playing Matt Damon as a big lumbering good-hearted doofus of a Midwestern hunk, with a fairly pretty wife and a yen for a bigger, nicer house. I could recognize this – I lived in the Midwest for seven years – and, in the isolatedness of that place and its particular conditioning, getting a big, carefully-appointed house is the unquestioned religious pursuit.

But we also have a lab in far-off Norway where scientists discover how to safely downsize people to five inches tall; the idea is to save the world, and humanity, by making us inhabit less space and require fewer resources.

Matt Damon’s character, Paul Safranic, and his wife Audrey (Wiig) leave Omaha for Leisureland, a facility in New Mexico where they are interviewed by an accountant who helps them see what their big-world assets will buy them in Little World: if they go through the irreversible medical procedure and become small, and then take up residence in Leisureland’s miniature Utopia. Quite a lot, actually: their $152,000 of equity translates into many millions.

Women and men are separated for the brief shrinking procedure – and when Paul wakes up, he finds out that his beloved wife has gotten cold feet and isn’t shrinking. And he’s left with a ghastly, lonely, vast McMansion on a treeless lot (there are no trees here, since everything is so small – and the biosphere of Leisureland is netted against birds and insects).

So far so good – I was completely gripped, though supposing that the movie would play out in this plastic, curiously hazy-skied happy-world where people ride about in tiny golf carts by day, clad in bland, casual sportswear, and rave and revel in night-long parties, consuming luxuries they wouldn’t have been able to afford while they were big.

But the film really takes off when the cleaners come in to clear up after a party where Paul had reluctantly found himself… and had ended up passed out under a table till morning.

I’m not going to give away the plot – but suffice it to say that the cast goes international, the characters wonderfully-drawn – a Serbian mini-playboy, Dusan (Christoph Waltz) with Connections, a Vietnamese dissident forcibly downsized by a repressive regime, and so on. This character, Ngoc Lan Tran (Chau) lights up the movie with her forceful, truth-telling, unapologetically strident tones.

Nor do we stay in the insipid Leisureland, with its shocking secret underbelly – but we go to gorgeous Norway, to a colony of celebrating mini-hippies and earth-mothers and tribal elders, who have kept ferns and butterflies and the natural world in their own downsizing milieu.

So, we’ve got a full dose of sci-fi here: tech marvels, apocalyptic scenario (Antarctica is melting fast) – and afterwards I was trying to feel out what the message of the movie is. And although Paul’s choices might lead us to think it’s something either Mother Theresa-ish or Hallmark Romantic Love-is-All, I don’t see it that way.

If the medium is the message, I see this film as a compassionate, joyful celebration of the creativity of human beings. The movie takes a wild premise and plays with it like a puppy with a nice stick between its teeth – but very gracefully. The theme – whatever it might be – is explored with love and tenderness – and without violence or lust-tweaking.

Thoroughly entertaining – lots of fun – very touching. I was uplifted by this film for the rest of the night – for I had a dream that my own Midwestern hunk (I’ll watch anything with either Tom Hanks or Matt Damon in it, since both resemble him) had come back to me, his wife conveniently absenting herself. (I get these dreams periodically.) That lovely hunk I reluctantly left because I couldn’t stand the bland and plastic Midwest.

But this movie takes you through veils and barriers into simple human heart and creativity; on a big scale.

I went to see it because I thought I’d weirdly enjoy the vertigo of imagining being 5 inches tall. And I wasn’t disappointed. But I got so much more than that… something about life itself, come spluttering to the surface, fighting for its light and beauty.

This morning I opened my notebook to write and came across these words from Rumi:

…Love is the work of wrestlers.
The one who becomes a servant
of lovers
is really a fortunate sovereign.
Don’t ask anyone about love,
ask Love about Love.
Love is a cloud that scatters pearls.

To me, this movie seems to have been a labour of love. As Osho says, “The heart is an adventurer.” And sometimes sci-fi can can go where other genres fear to tread.

Highly recommended.

2017. Director: Alexander Payne (About Schmidt, Sideways, Nebraska, Election)
Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Hong Chau, Christoph Waltz
2 hours 15 mins.

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