Downsizing is a sci-fi satire brought to you by the minds of Alexander Payne and co-writer Jim Taylor that proposes the idea to solve the problem of human sustainability. The film begins in Norway, where scientists manage to shrink a laboratory rat to 0.0364 of its original size. It’s not long before these scientific minds acquire a group of volunteers who are willing to be reduced to similar size, to create a new era in which a tiny human race is created to consume a fraction of the earth’s resources. The first 36 volunteers involved in the trial process produce only one normal-sized garbage bag of waste over a four year period, marking the solution to the never-ending problem of Earth’s overpopulation and dwindling resources.
Fast forward a few years and ‘downsizing’ has become a permanent social trend that offers extraordinary lifestyle opportunities. Although the procedure is irreversible it comes with a lot of perks including how $152,000 of real-world money translates into $12.5 million inside the dome of a downsized community called ‘Leisureland’. Our lead character Paul Safranek played by Matt Damon, is an occupational therapist and along with wife Audrey (played by Kristen Wiig) they feel their lives have plummeted along with their finances. After speaking with friend Dave Johnson (played by Jason Sudeikis) who had already taken part in the downsizing procedure, convinces them to head off to ‘Leisureland’, a luxury community of tiny people, where they absorb the propaganda and decide to take the plunge. Or at least Paul does.
In the last moments Audrey backs out of the downsizing procedure and Paul, now shrunk from to his 12.9cm self, has to learn to navigate in a new little world alone. He starts off moving into a huge new mansion before realizing he has to reinvent himself and makes another move to much smaller apartments. This is when he meets his upstairs neighbour party boy Dusan (played by Christoph Waltz), and Dusan’s cleaning woman Ngoc Lan Tran (played by Hong Chau), and it’s here when Paul’s perspective on his life and his place in the small and big worlds is transformed.
Ngoc Lan Tran a Vietnamese activist with a wooden leg, was forcibly downsized by a repressive regime, and now devotes herself to the poor that live within the community. For within this tiny world of extravagant luxury, there is a class of service industry workers who are even poorer than the full-sized poor. Soon Paul’s social conscience is awakened and he finds a new purpose in life, to help Ngoc and the people in ‘Leisureland’s’ ghetto.
Visually “Downsizing” is a joy, especially once we are introduced to the micro visuals of this new found ‘Leisureland’ community and people. The movie tackles a lot of interesting topics including downsizing’s effects on consumer spending, tax revenue and the global economy, but these subjects aren’t really explored other then with a line or two. The original storyline concept is to be admired, as we’re delivered a movie not only about shrinking but also an exploration into the economical and environmental impacts we are currently challenged within today’s society. This movie has all the marks of a Payne movie though, a director best known for his unconventional drama’s such as “Election”, “About Schmidt”, “Sideways” and “The Descendants (one of my personal favourites)”.
Environmentalism is the key idea that begins the movie but it’s when Payne decides to take the movie to a higher concept, that the film begins to drag and linger. It loses its way in trying to say something meaningful about human legacy, but never really delivers its point. Despite its failures towards the end, it’s a smartly executed original work that will really get you thinking about the idea’s behind “Downsizing”.