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The film shows a world where scientific breakthrough has allowed to irreversibly shrink people into miniature versions of themselves in order to reduce produced waste. It quickly became a lifestyle trend as the world became divided into regular and downsized communities. The protagonist Paul, chooses to undergo the procedure with his wife, who backs out at the last second. Many years later, Paul is living alone and encounters a neighbor smuggler Dusan who lives a carefree lifestyle.
There, Paul encounters Ngoc Lan, a refugee who works as a housecleaner to make ends meet. She introduces him to a world of poverty and struggles, which is inherently against the lavish lifestyle advertisement of downsized communities. This shows that no matter the size, there is still the same socio-economic divide and wasteful behaviors that exist amongst regular people.
Eventually, Paul and Ngoc Lan are provided a chance to travel with Dusan to Norway, where they encounter Dr. Jørgen Asbjørnsen, who was the inventor of the downsizing technology and one of the first people to undergo the procedure. They learn that due to methane emissions, a global natural catastrophe is looming, with mankind unable to reverse its effects. Dr. Asbjørnsen and his followers created a secret vault deep inside a mountain where a downsized colony of people would be able to survive for several generations. Paul considers entering the vault but decides to turn back, held back by his feelings for Ngoc Lan (Downsizing).
The film’s plot elements are construed in a way that reflects the protagonist’s inner journey of realization. At first, the real world is presented as full of economic challenges with families struggling to make ends meet. The discussion of downsizing is presented as a full-scale sales pitch with the protagonist being inclined to the procedure by his friend, then the sales agent. After the divorce and meeting Ngoc Lan, Paul is faced with harsh realities that despite the promised benefits of the procedure, there is still an inherent socio-economical divide. Finally, in the last scenes of the movie, as humanity is faced with imminent destruction, the characters realize for themselves what they truly hold dear.
Despite its philosophical themes, the dialogue in the movie remains simplistic. Even when having discussions about the meaning of life, every major character engages in their stereotypical and rough linguistic intricacies and humor. The film attempts to show that humanity’s true values are expressed through authentic dialog between human beings.
The acting was done well in the film as each actor embraced their character’s personality and stereotypes. Since the film is a satire, it was necessary to overextend on certain mannerisms and attitudes. These are especially evident in the eccentric but caring Dusan and the independent but emotional Ngoc Lan. Actors skillfully demonstrated a wide range of emotion and transformations in characters as the plot progressed.
Downsizing showed exceptional cinematography, having to show the world of little people. The most difficult scenes to portray were the interactions between miniature sets or people with regular-sized characters. Visual effects had to use focus and perspective to create this orienting effect in the environment. Many sets in the movie were with miniature characters being surrounded by large sets, requiring significant manipulation of proportions in cinematography.
The director of Downsizing is Alexander Payne, who is a well-known comedy film producer and screenwriter. He is known for his films producing satire and social commentary through the use of dark humor. Downsizing in itself can be considered a satirical social commentary on the values of society and mankind’s parasitic approach to nature. However, similar to many of his other films, Payne took an in-depth approach to character development within the societal context.
He laces the intimate moments of the protagonist’s journey to realizations within the greater commentary of consumerism, capitalism, and ecology. In a manner, the science-fiction premise behind the film is so absurd, it creates inherent interest and draws immediate comparison to darker realities of the real world. Nevertheless, the film was a significant departure from Payne’s traditional style as he uses a carefully crafted metaphor in order to make a socio-political statement on a wide variety of issues.
My personal reaction to the film is mixed. It felt like an original idea, building on the concept of the classic tale Gulliver’s Travels with a modern twist and evident environmental advocacy. However, the film fell short of fully exploring the idea, as many of the film’s plotlines, character developments, and overall themes felt significantly underexplored. Although the relationships between the protagonist and Ngoc Lan Tran or Dusan are authentic, they fail to connect to the plot as a large. Each character is evidently a stereotypical representative of distinct types of people in this world, and their attitude is representative of approaches to climate change.
Furthermore, the use of humor and plot elements in connection with these stereotypes feels like the overuse of typical comedic elements. For example, the contrast of Paul’s white attitude lacking an understanding of the struggles that Tran experienced or the overuse of sexual innuendos. The script may have been meant to humanize the characters and show that size does not change anything in retrospect.
Overall, the plot feels significantly underdeveloped and disconnected despite the movie exceeding a runtime of two hours. The movie attempts to show that humans are able to achieve so much through scientific discovery but end up causing their own self-destruction. In the end, it is the human connection and emotions which matter preserving. It is a decent film due to the unique idea and symbolism as well as superb acting but does not deliver the full impact of the intended narrative or themes.
Downsizing. Directed by Alexander Payne, performance by Matt Damon, Paramount Pictures, 2017.