Downsizing: A Big Mess, by David Bax

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2 Responses

  1. Yonah Paley says:

    I have to disagree with the assertion that “Downsizing” ends up becoming a white savior film.

    Matt Damon’s character is nobody’s savior; in fact, he’s not even really our movie’s hero. He represents the all-American chump, someone who has bought into the myth that rampant consumerism and an upper class lifestyle is the key to life’s happiness. The reason he is so unhappy has very little to do with his economic status. He is unhappy because he has neglected the people around him. Damon’s reasoning for getting downsized is a selfish one; he neglects to find out whether his wife truly wants to do this as well, thinking only of the cost benefits and luxury his lifestyle change will bring him. We see his flaw once again when he begins dating a young mother in Leisureland, as he tries rushing the relationship, without considering how she feels about it.

    The second half of the movie grapples with the notion that personal relationships are possibly more important than saving the world. Damon’s decision to remain with Hong Chau’s character represents a tremendous character arc: the decision to focus on personal relationships, regardless of how little time he might have to pursue them.

    Downsizing is not about a man who decides to help poor people. It is about a selfish man realizing that he has been selfish. The movie doesn’t try to say he is now going to save the world, or even a single poor person. It says he has become more willing to understand others, and has become more fulfilled in life because of it.

    The second half of the movie does have a bit of a hard time connecting to the first half. That being said, I think Downsizing is one of the best films of 2017. It presents a plausible scenario for something that could have just been a one-note joke, while commenting exquisitely on consumerism, human relationships, and the environment.

  2. Downsizing seems to put reassuring the audience above serious treatment of its themes. Here is a film whose high concept (downsizing) is built on the foreseeable end of mankind because of climate change, and on many Americans’ fantasies of gated-community wealth and lazy luxury. To comfort rather than discomfort the audience, the film eventually suggests that only a cult-like hippie group really cares about extinction (which won’t happen for hundreds of years anyway, so no big deal), and the film’s satire of McMansion envy is quite mild. Imagine this film had it been written by Charlie Brooker (Black Mirror) or directed by Luis Bunuel or Michael Haneke. I think that Yonah Paley is right that Matt Damon’s character is the all-American chump, or at least the kind of ordinary nice guy that most of the audience will identify with. His last-minute decision to follow the advice of an assertive, independent woman is a refreshing change from typical Hollywood notions of manly leadership, but it hardly suggests that he has come to some higher consciousness about the transcendent value of human relationships, or for that matter carefully considered his relationship with her. As you suggest, David, the hard-working and tough-minded Hong Chau character probably states the theme best: “Things are getting worse, she says, so let’s not waste any time making things better.”

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