Wrong Side Up, by Josh Long
As the opening credits of Juan Solanas’ Upside Down roll, a whimsical sequence explains the setting of the film – twin planets with opposing gravitational forces. The narrator (who turns out to be our main character, Jim Sturgess as Adam) goes on to explain the rules of this scientific oddity and how it affects the people and objects of his world. The idea of twin planets with opposing gravities, each with a hold on its own inhabitants, is an interesting and original one. It’s unfortunate that Solanas uses it to tell such a boring love story.
Adam and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) live on different worlds. Adam’s world is filled with the poor (called “Down Below”) and Eden’s world is full of the opulent rich (called “Up Top”). They meet when they both happen to be on two mountain tops that happen to nearly touch. Flash forward ten years, and I guess they’re in love now. But after about five idyllic minutes, men with guns arrive to try and shoot Adam. Why? It’s clear that the Up Top people are prejudiced against those from Down Below, but enough so to shoot a random stranger? Anyway, Adam tries to lower Eden by rope down to her world, but he’s shot in the arm and drops her. We see a cloud of blood form under her head, and Adam assumes the worst. Now, for some reason, people (Cops? Thugs? Stooges for the evil corporation? Who are these people?) show up to burn his aunt’s house down and drag him somewhere.
BAM. Ten years have gone by again, and now Adam is fine, working in a junk shop Down Below. His aunt (you know, the one we saw for two minutes and then the movie burned her house down to create “drama”) had introduced him to secret pollen from bees that pollenate flowers from both worlds. The pollen thus can be used to create amazing effects, so that items from both worlds can be combined and float, pulled from both gravitational fields. Adam takes this amazing revolutionary technology, and is using it to invent…anti-aging cream. Way to think big.
Adam now finds out that Eden is still alive, and works for the nefarious energy corporation Transworld (which, in an oh-so-subtle allegory, “steals oil” from Down Below to get rich). We’re introduced to Transworld as Eden presides over a lottery where saps from Down Below vie for a job there. The next day, somehow, Adam circumvents all that pesky conflict, and lands a job there, so that he can re-connect with Eden. Oh, it makes sense though, because his job at the energy conglomerate will be to develop his anti-aging cream. Of course. Adam has to steal weights from Up Top, so they will weigh him down (or up?) so he can find Eden. Now it’s been established that if matter from one world touches matter from the other for too long, they will start to burn. So Adam can only use these weights for a limited amount of time. The amount of time, however, is totally unclear; sometimes it’s twenty minutes, sometimes it’s several hours.
Adam finds Eden, only to discover that, in a Gilligan’s Island style plot twist, she has amnesia. Not to worry though! After one date with him, and then a dream, amnesia I guess just dissipates. And from here on out, the rest of the loose ends are tied up with little conflict in an equally lackluster way.
This may be more of a plot outline than you were hoping for, but what you need to know is that this movie looks beautiful, very often, has some potentially fascinating mythology, but wastes it on this story. They have opposing gravities working on separate sets of people at every time – and yet this is used less to build creative sequences, and more to play funny visual tricks, incidental to the story.
You have two lovers that will literally burn if they touch each other for too long – and you choose to create conflict by giving her amnesia? Then there’s this vague sense of Transworld being our antagonist, yet we don’t know why they’re so evil, why they have so much power, or what their motivation is. And ultimately, they do nothing to stop the lovers. Unless they’re behind the random teams of gunmen that show up to shoot Adam when the scriptwriter needs to tack on some tension (twice, by the way). At one point a car full of thugs pulls up in front of Adam, kicks him around and tells him to stay away from Eden and give up the secret ingredient to his anti-aging cream (yes, the massive energy company finds it worthwhile to hire thugs to facilitate the production of their anti-aging cream). Fortunately, the thugs never show up again, Adam goes back to Eden, and never gives up the formula.
None of the nonsense of the film should be blamed on the actors. Sturgess and Dunst give fine performances. They’re almost genuine enough to take our mind off the fact that the story around them is so weak. It doesn’t help any that the dialogue is clunky. Not to sound xenophobic, but if you want to make a movie in English, there should be at least one native English speaker on your writing team.
It’s all made so much more disappointing when so much technical work went into the production. It’s clear that production designers, concept artists, the camera team and even Solanas as the director went to great lengths to create the world and film it. There are multiple conversations with people upside down to each other, pulled by the opposite gravities. It’s an accomplishment just to be able to shoot that in a way that makes sense visually, and looks believable. And the film does succeed at both. But this ingenious and wonderfully shot concept is used to tell a dull, unengaging story, populated with one-dimensional characters.
It makes a movie so much more disappointing when you can see the potential there for something great. The concept has an intriguing mythology, with mind-bending physics, and could be fascinating and exciting in the hands of a good sci-fi writer. But Solanas’ script leaves a lot to be desired. It even has built in conflict which it completely ignores. Upside Down stands, more than anything, as a monumental missed opportunity.