Social satire is the new black. Downsizing uses the science fiction genre to lampoon issues like immigration, human extinction events and social reform.
Downsizing is legally sci-fi because people shrink from adult length to just inches tall not unlike The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957), yet the dynamic focuses more on moral opinions on mankind rather than the existential examination of same.
Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig are an average Omaha couple that opt for the newest invention of cellular miniaturization (a.k.a. downsizing). Director and co-writer Alexander Payne himself hails from Omaha and never ceases to represent average Americans in his films whether it’s in movies like Election (1999) or Nebraska (2013).
Downsizing increases your net worth, thus a five-figure sum of savings becomes an eight-figure quantity. Your equity translates into a food budget for a few months that equals the cost for a diamond bracelet with matching earrings and necklace.
Payne makes the film seem epic by wisely dividing the acts into separate parables of the foibles of human folly. There’s a beginning with an origin story, a middle part that examines what it is like to be small, and an ending that takes the whole concept to another level.
Damon finds himself in a world of equal distribution between the big and the small and yet there are agents of change that challenge the status quo. Most notably Payne pits Damon’s rather innocent character against the pure capitalism of similar small people with less than altruistic motifs, one of whom is brilliantly portrayed by Christoph Waltz. Not only does Payne enlist the talents of Waltz, the most honored foreign actor in recent time, but he pairs Waltz with Udo Kier, another actor who ruled the cinema in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s with his portrayals of unrequited victims of chance.
Just for the record, Udo Kier spoke the greatest movie line of the 20th century when as Baron Frankenstein in Flesh For Frankenstein (1973), a 3-D film incidentally known alternatively as Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein, he spoke the line: “In order to recognize life you must fuck death in the gall bladder.”
Flash forward to Downsizing. Supporting actress Hong Chau (as Ngoc Lan Tran, a refugee whose dictatorship government made her small against her will) totally steals the film. In scene after scene Chau is the moral buttress that supports the lofty ideas that Payne is trying to espouse.
Damon and Chau hook up, but when the extinction of the human race looms large (It involves methane gas released in the arctic regions and is still a couple of hundred years away from total annihilation.) they must find a way to talk to each other in a way that seems like a foreign language to the other jaded members of the cast.
Chau seriously asks Damon “Other night in boat, what kind of fuck you give me? American people — eight fuck: love fuck, hate fuck, sex only fuck, break-up fuck, make-up fuck, drunk fuck, buddy fuck, pity fuck.”
There’s a whole lot of meaning layered beneath each and every scene in Downsizing. By the fantastic ending you will either be living with the modern vision of the future or ready to refuse to admit that this couldn’t happen here.