‘Downsizing’ Is About Survival, Scaled Down to Size or Not
Small or not, the world functions the same!
Once upon a fine bourgeoisie meal, humans unintentionally breathed life into McDonald's’ toy figurines.
And then no one knew what to do.
It was just a stray thought. That’s not how Alexander Payne’s Downsizing pans out, though.
Downsizing scales down the Olympian survivalist in a rugged terrain of human consciousness and then makes him see-saw between servility and self-importance.
Alexander Payne’s protagonist, Paul Safranek, played by Matt Damon, is always at the crossroads of life. He is the guy who can’t usually get things to work out for him.
When the scientists decide to counter overpopulation by shrinking humans beings down to .0364 percent of their current mass and volume, Paul and his wife decide to go for it. The medical procedure is optional and once successful, it downsizes the regular man to five inches tall. Less consumption, less waste...an environmental saviour – only on paper, though.
As it turns out, the downsized lot is neither concerned about the environment nor about each other. The downsized world, set apart from the Gulliver-esque one by miniature versions of almost everything under the sun, is as riddled by selfish motives, corruption, financial disparity, and giant social demarcations as the regular messed-up one we are privy to.
Imagine a Chicken Maharaja Mac scaled down to size for the downsized man who is five inches tall. Now imagine that burger NOT scaled down to size for the downsized burger lover. Quite a dream, huh?
That is, more or less, the downsized dream. Less is more.
But less leads to more, despite what the good Samaritans in the movie, or the lonesome one in Paul’s head, would make you believe.
Once downsized, Paul gets a call from his wife. And Payne manages to take you by complete surprise. A surprise that can afford amusement because you are not in Paul’s shoes. The downsized ones, mind you. Audrey calls him up to tell him that she feels awful. She couldn’t go through with it.
So now Paul is all by himself in Leisure Land, a downsized ecosystem that will house him from now on. It is a land where his liquidated assets, worth about $100,000, translate to a whopping $12 million. He has a huge mansion to himself and picture-perfect luxury to lounge in, but that doesn’t seem to get him going. There are Vietnamese dissenters, subterranean vaults, and a semblance of love... in store for him.
But you are left wondering, what is it that actually matters to him?
Is it love? Is it a sense of self-referentiality? Is it concern for others?
He ends up confessing to Lan Tran, the Vietnamese woman, that a “love fuck’’ is what matters to him. But you aren’t quite convinced. Damon manages to make Paul teeter on the edge of dilemmas throughout the movie. And he does it wonderfully well.
Matt Damon is a delight to watch, along with Hong Chau, but Downsizing does not deliver on the promise that it makes at the beginning. Because it tells you a host of things. Things that matter. A lot. But not that ONE thing you would remember for quite some time to come.
When Paul is getting downsized in the laboratory, and the regular-sized medical helpers are waiting outside the lab, you see them milling about, relaxed and hair down, huddled in groups, perhaps talking of lunch or the weather. That moment is the one that stays. The ‘big people’ are casually waiting on the soon-to-be-shrunk ones. There is balance. There is a projection of normalcy, despite differences.
And the normalised differences is what you want to see. But don’t get.
What happens if, say, a downsized man falls in love with a ‘big’ woman? What happens if a ‘big’ man is at a dance with a ‘small’ woman? The visualizations are endless, but we are only given tiny glimpses (when Paul has to sign his divorce papers in the real world) and left to imagine the rest.
What we are shown is a world that is inching closer to extinction. The end is apocalyptic and the end is near. But Payne’s characters don’t stop living. They keep trying, either through ‘downsized’ setups or subterranean vaults.
Downsizing did not leave me with any particular character, event or message I would remember. It left me with the serpentine expanse of the blue sky, the Herculean mountains of Norway and the infinitesimally tiny battles we are braving before such forces.
If I had to boil down to something, I would say that Downsizing is not about size. It is about regularity. Our regular egos, our regular instincts, our regular tendencies to structure our consciousness around our own selves. Against the ‘downsized’ world. Rarely do we realise that we are all in boxes.
(We Indians have much to talk about these days. But what would you tell India if you had the chance? Pick up the phone and write or record your Letter To India. Don’t be silent, tell her how you feel. Mail us your letter at email@example.com. We’ll make sure India gets your message)
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