Toronto International Film Festival Day 7

Posted 15 September 2017





For more than two decades Alexander Payne has been making smart, incisive and thoughtful films on a range of aspects of contemporary life; politics in Election, strained relationships within families in About Schmidt and Nebraska, and dealing with grief in The Descendants. His latest film, Downsizing, is something of a break with this tradition; Payne presents us with a science fiction fable that tales on a range of global issues, albeit with his customary compassion and incisiveness.

In Downsizing my favourite Wallander, Rolf Lassgard, invents a process to shrink people down to size; about five inches to be exact. Mankind's problems would be solved; an end to overpopulation, famine and global warming all at a single stroke. Lassgard is so sure of his invention that he downsizes himself and starts the world's first 'small' colony in Scandanavia with plans to shrink all of humanity over the next century. Before you start thinking this is an inverted version of Land Of The Giants I can assure you that the film has bigger things on its mind (a terrible joke I know). The world takes on board the new option for mankind and small colonies spring up everywhere. The advantages are obvious; a house for a five inch tall version of yourself is going to be a lot cheaper than the one you're living in now. Sell up, liquidise your assets and have enough to live in luxury for the rest of your life!

The premise set up, we now follow Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig as a couple who decide to go small and move to their local colony, Leisure Land. Payne's film then does what so many Hollywood films seem reticent to do and follows this one simple, if fantastical, idea through all of its possible consequences. The film provides an array of details about shrinking - you cannot shrink if you have certain medical conditions (a hip replacement or a pacemaker), if you shrink then you have to leave all your possessions behind, the bacteria in milk can cause digestive problems for small people…the film raises both big and small questions about the process. As the film progresses it becomes a satire of how we live as big people and the sanitised lifestyle in Leisure Land is continually questioned with specific critiques of such currently controversial topics such as social inequality and the treatment of migrant workers; topics that would be avoided in most other mainstream movies.

The only negative thing I would say about the film is that it is at least fifteen minutes too long, mostly due to a surfeit of ambition in trying to take on too much within its narrative - believe me, I haven't told much of the plot at all here! This is a film full of ideas; it reminded me of Groundhog Day in how by mining the rich seam of its initial premise it just generated so many great moments and insights. Hats off to Alexander Payne in creating such a wonderfully bizarre film, so bizarre in fact that I almost expected Udo Kier to turn up and start chewing the scenery, oh and then he did.

Martin Carter

Principal Film Lecturer at Sheffield Hallam University, Martin regularly gives lectures and courses at The Showroom Cinema in Sheffield.Read more posts by Martin Carter


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