Five years ago, Norwegian scientist Dr Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) made an incredible breakthrough in the laboratory he worked in, pioneering the endeavours to make the world a better place by creating a method of economical living. Now, there comes a time to reveal the results to the public at a conference, just to explain what has been happening this past half-decade, and the attendees are stunned when they see his assistant bring in a box, announce the doctor, then lift the lid to reveal him standing there, five inches tall. Or five inches not-so-tall, as the big idea is to shrink everyone to make the planet's resources last far longer, and almost completely eliminate pollution...
Seems every month that goes by, someone devises a new way of saving the world through environmental means, but it also seems that those problems are never overcome and the warnings remain in place. This was part of director Alexander Payne's screenplay (written with Jim Taylor), an original story for a change for him, and as is the case with concepts that were not merely new, but untried in the entertainment realm, Downsizing utterly flopped, with audiences apparently expecting a comedy and getting more of a contemplative drama with humorous asides. Oh, and it was science fiction too - but not in the manner fifties cult classic The Incredible Shrinking Man was.
So we didn't have scenes of a diddy Matt Damon running for his life away from hungry cats or spiders which would be normal-sized and thus not a threat had he been of his original dimensions. This was closer to a musing over the potential for utopia, and if it could ever be achieved when humanity is so far from utopian itself: it can dream up the concept of a perfect world, yet it always seems to sabotage any such good intentions through simply not being able to live up to its own high standards. No matter how hard we tried, Downsizing told us, the fact remained that we were a bit rubbish, really, and any hope we could improve was very much tempered by our innate drawbacks.
Nobody gets murdered in this film, so it wasn't a bleak exercise in self-criticism from Payne on behalf of the entire human race, and nobody is so oppressed they cannot find a way out of their situation to get by elsewhere, but the pressing nature of our grimmer aspects was detectable nevertheless. Damon played Paul Safranek, whose name constituted a running joke that nobody could pronounce it correctly, one small but visible reason why perfection will always be out of our grasp. Others popped up too: science is making amazing discoveries but cannot cure his mother's illnesses; when she dies, he is forced to stay in the same house he grew up in since he cannot afford anywhere better; his dream job of being a surgeon had to fall by the wayside because of money restrictions, so now he is an occupational therapist; and so on.
These snags, ranging in seriousness, mount up, which is why Paul and his wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig) settle on the best option: get shrunk and move to what is an apparent utopia, where their literally reduced cost of living means they will be millionaires and live the high life under a huge tent to keep the animals out. Once there, Paul makes all sorts of new friends, and finds all sorts of new problems, again because people's grasp is shorter than their reach, though he did at least get to meet character actors of the calibre of Christoph Waltz and Udo Kier. They would be close to stealing the movie had it not been for Hong Chau as Ngoc Lan Tran, a cleaning lady with one foot who was forcibly downsized by the Vietnamese dictatorship and puts Paul's suffering into perspective. She spoke in broken English and threatened to be a caricature, yet Hong divined the humanity there that made us think as much as, maybe more than, the apocalyptic ruminations that closed the film. The point appeared to be, you can't save us all, some of us are beyond that while others can move forward, but acceptance of our limitations was a big part of peace of mind. Music by Rolfe Kent.
American writer/director of offbeat comedy drama. Payne's first film was the abortion satire Citizen Ruth, but it was 1999's acclaimed, Oscar-nominated satire Election brought the director to prominence. The affecting road movie About Schimdt showcased one of Jack Nicholson's best ever performances, while 2004's Sideways gained Payne yet more awards and acclaim. Seven years later came the Hawaii-set follow up, The Descendants, which was similarly lauded, then shortly afterwards the multi-Oscar-nominated and expertly judged Nebraska. Downsizing, on the other hand, was a costly sci-fi flop.