Director: Alexander Payne
Screenwriters: Alexander Payne, Jim Taylor
Runtime: 135 mins.
Australian Release Date: 26 December 2017
Previewed at: Paramount Pictures Theatrette, Pyrmont, Sydney, on 30 November 2017.
In a world which is rapidly reaching its critical mass, the possibility of making yourself smaller and thus dramatically increasing your financial assets is a tantalising proposition. Plus, think of the positive affect you'd be having on the environment. Surely it's a win win situation? This is the premise of Alexander Payne's latest film, Downsizing, which takes its audience into this brave new world. Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) is a decent, hard-working, normal-sized, occupational therapist who tends to live life by the rules. His wife Audrey (Kirsten Wiig) has her eyes on a bigger house which would be a struggle for them to afford. When a couple of old friends tell them how their lives were transformed by entering a program run by a Norwegian scientist, Dr. Norman Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård), who has taken his Nobel Prize-winning research on molecular shrinkage to another level, the couple decide to take the plunge and ‘downsize'. However, Paul soon learns that, although his bank balance has ballooned, none of his real world problems shrank when he did and living in a McMansion doesn't necessarily bring happiness. When he meets his neighbour Dusan (Christoph Waltz) and Dusan's Vietnamese cleaning lady Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) he begins to see that, in reality, it's not size that matters (in life), it's what you do with it.
The detail into which Payne goes to illustrate the medical aspects of ‘downsizing' makes for some uncomfortable viewing and, at that point, you start to wonder which side you would take. This is the dilemma that Payne and Taylor’s intriguing script constantly examines - he keeps you questioning the complexity and indeed morality of the situation. Downsizing is for the most part a fascinating journey into the unknown. Regrettably it does go somewhat off-kilter when Paul and some other ‘downsizers' decide to check out the area in Norway where the original experiment took place, which is now a kind of utopian commune. It could also do with some critical editing; it's as though the writers had so many ideas they couldn't bear to leave any of them out. Perhaps they should have left some of them for Downsizing 2?
Payne's film depicts a surreal realm which may or may not become a reality in the dim distant future as resources become thinner on the ground and the constant neglect of our environment, coupled with an increase in the world population, reach a point where the planet can't sustain humankind. Very likely there will be more films like this presenting new ideas and possibilities for survival as the ‘end times’ approach. Let's hope we still have Hollywood to show us the way!