Alexander Payne’s new film Downsizing (2017) is an interesting character study set in a world with technology that allows people to be shrunk. Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Rolf Lassgård) has developed the procedure in an effort to cure the world’s number one threat: overpopulation. Fifteen years after the procedure known as Downsizing was created, Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his wife Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wiig) decide to take the leap and have the procedure done. When Paul wakes up small it’s only moments later he finds out that Audrey decided not to and his life will be even more different than he was anticipating.
Downsizing didn’t do what I expected, but it is a thought-provoking and enjoyable film
It is an interesting choice to create an alternative reality and then focus on a single individual’s journey within it. Paul is a guy who chooses to sacrifice his own happiness to help others. Not that he is selfless, but he wants to make the people he loves happy. It’s this desire that really makes him decide to Downsize in the first place. Audrey and Paul aren’t financially thriving and the transition shrinks the world you live in, but increases your net worth as the cost of living is way cheaper in the shrunken environment. He sees this as a way of making Audrey’s dreams come true, which he was likely to never pull-off full size. It’s this trait that the film pushes him to ultimately decide to continue doing things at the cost of his own happiness or to choose to be more selective with how he helps people.
Payne raises several interesting points in the film built around the premise. There are people who immediately become bigoted towards the other people who choose to Downsize. Paul’s neighbor Dusan Mirkovic (Christoph Waltz) character proves that people will also attempt to take advantage of a situation with his smuggling of goods not easily accessible to the Downsized community. Some countries opt to use the technology as a punishment forcing them to a shrunken lifestyle. It’s this idea that introduces Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau) who is the most interesting character in the film. She is a political refugee who was shrunk by the Vietnamese government after her stint in prison and escaped by hiding away in a TV box. Ngoc and Paul meet through Dushan and Paul – seeking to help a person who is in need – befriends Ngoc and becomes indebted to her in a series of funny moments.
It’s the relationships that Paul makes in the shrunken world that pushes him to start reflecting on the man he has been. He finds himself at a crossroad that has a familiar path and one he has basically avoid his whole life. Sci-fi films like this allow us to reflect back on our society and think about the world we are living in. There is definitely an environmental message built into the film, but Payne allows the audience to make their mind upon which side of the issue is right. Downsizing earns A Decent Watch rating.