Downsizing UV Ultraviolet Code
5.0 out of 5 stars
Satire about materialism become drama about the purpose of life – exemplary Matt Damon and Hong Chau
Downsizing is an awesome movie! Alexander Payne and his co-writer Jim Taylor took an idea to really crazy lengths: What if scientists found a way to shrink people to save the planet from overpopulation, climate change, and waste? And what if it was sold to people as a way to get more bang for their buck, to live richer than they could as normal people? I love how this first act of the movie satirizes middle-class Americans, who pretend to be content and claim they’re just “looking” for better options, then eagerly go through tons of effort to get approved for the downsizing process, then admit it wasn’t all that much greater. The shallow materialism of Americans is satirized really well. After Matt Damon convinces his wife, played by Kristen Wiig, to get downsized with him, she backs away from it and he’s already gone through with it, permanently separating them. Then the entire rest of the movie keeps you guessing, about whether he can find purpose in this new existence and whether the meaning of life is to “save the planet” or something more personal than that. Christoph Waltz plays his downsized eastern European neighbor whose business dealings and acquaintance with a Vietnamese refugee, who has also downsized, take them ultimately to Norway, where the downsizing experiment began. Matt Damon has to choose what his purpose will be, and I love how suspenseful the choice is.
The movie is kind of in the science fiction category, but it doesn’t really fit any categories. Matt Damon and Hong Chau, the actress for the Vietnamese refugee, an unlikely person to accompany him on his journeys, both do excellent acting. It turns out the pessimistic scientists are as idiotic as the materialistic Americans in this movie, for thinking they can predict the end of the human race and then making dumb choices of their own toward the end to prevent the bad outcome they’ve determined will definitely happen to humanity. It’s not until the end that the movie’s philosophy really shines, about the importance of doing good in the present moment instead of worrying about a future catastrophe. A lot of the best movies, such as Awakenings starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, have that theme. There is some really good humor in this movie also. And the music is pretty interesting overall. One of the most memorable scenes for me is when Neil Patrick Harris and Laura Dern are advertising how rich they are, and she is filmed in a bath tub showing off her diamond jewelry and he pretends to be showing an authentic look at their home when the presentation is so obviously contrived. The satire is just enough to be funny. Leonard Maltin’s review has a couple excerpts I want to quote here: “Downsizing isn’t a ‘message movie,’ but it does have a lot to say about modern life, from the hypocrisy of corporate hustle to the dilemma of a (literally) shrinking middle class. It offers food for thought as well as ingenuity, visual surprises, solid laughs, and a story that goes in unexpected directions. . . . Satire is always a tough sell, but I hope moviegoers will embrace this highly original film. They will witness the emergence of a great talent in Hong Chau and be rewarded for joining Matt Damon on a unique physical and emotional odyssey.”
One other thing about the downsizing process is that it’s so much like how eagerly people jump on to new technologies like flying cars, driverless cars, social media apps and websites, and internet-based cell phones. People in the movie don’t fear being mistreated or stepped on by the normal people once they downsize. There are new forms of infrastructure like buses capable of carrying downsized people in separate compartments from the normal people. There’s a really funny scene in a bar where someone is asking people who want to get downsized whether they’ve thought about what percentage of vote or taxes they deserve, and another where a TV broadcast explains how it weakens national security because people can sneak into America more easily. The scientists in the movie should’ve thought of that long before they promoted the technology!
I always wondered if the downsizing process, being irreversible, was going to ruin Matt Damon’s character’s chance at a good life after he came to regret it. I was pleasantly surprised how he found a new purpose. I feel like this movie and La La Land are two of the recent movies which ought to be considered classics. Brad’s Status starring Ben Stiller is the other movie which came out this year about the American dream, and is completely different from Downsizing and much more introspective, and a really worthwhile movie also. I’m kind of surprised neither Downsizing nor Brad’s Status has done all that well at the box office in their theatrical runs. But at least critics are properly recognizing Downsizing as a really worthwhile movie. They’re actually right about this one, too!
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