A film review by Craig J. Koban May 7, 2013


2013, PG-13, 107 mins.

Kirsten Dunst as Eden Jim Sturgess as Adam Timothy Spalls as Bob Boruchowitz  /  James Kidnie as Lagavullan

Written and directed by Juan Diego Solanas

There are so very few films these days that have a sort of audaciousness of spirit and a sense of limitless ambition.  UPSIDE DOWN is just one of those efforts.  

Here’s a film that fuses together an ageless tale of forbidden romance, thanklessly strong visual effects, and a remarkably novel premise that certainly is unlike anything that I’ve seen before.  It would be very easy to pick apart the science at the heart of UPSIDE DOWN, not to mention its underlining love story, which certainly cherry picks clichés and conventions from countless other films.  Yet, I was so utterly taken in with the film’s boldness of vision, its wondrous sights that inspire real awe, and its yearning to be different that I found myself less distracted by it’s faults.  

UPSIDE DOWN is a visionary piece of escapist cinema.  It creates a unique silver screen universe that transports you to another time and place like, say, METROPOLIS or BLADE RUNNER to the point where you are less conscious of your surroundings and become ever-increasingly immersed in what’s occurring in the film.  It is the brainchild of the Argentine-French director Juan Diego Solanas, who perhaps understands that so many contemporary love stories have grown staler by the year, so he places his within his own story’s truly topsy-turvy world.  The Canadian production cost $50 million (scant by Hollywood standards, but considerable to Canada) and, to be blunt, every single penny of it has been put on screen. 

As for the film’s ingenious premise?  Bare with me.  A long time ago in a galaxy far away there was a planet much like Earth, only that it has…dual gravity.  This Earth exists in the same space as another similar planet, and they seem inexplicably drawn together by forces that almost make the two bodies touch.  Thusly, inhabitants of planet A look up in the heavens and see the terrain of planet B.  Each of the planets has their own gravity laws, ensuring that a person from one could not easily exist in the other.  Like the rules of robotics, this universe exists based on a few irrefutable laws: (1) All matter is pulled by the gravity of the planet it comes from and not the other; (2) An object’s weight can be offset by matter from the opposite world; and (3) After some time, if matter from one world makes contact with matter from the other, it will begin to burn. 



Still with me? 

In Dickensian-like fashion, the two worlds are on polar opposite extremes: The upper world is the rich and prosperous one of the haves and the lower world is one of rampant poverty, strife, and hunger for the have-nots.  The upper society milks the lower for its recourses, despite the fact that having physical contact with anyone from the opposite world is punishable by death.  The connective link, so to speak, between the worlds is a company called “TransWorld”, a place where inhabitants from both worlds can work together, albeit without physical contact. 

Still with me? 

Now, the aforementioned love story involves, yes, a person from the lower planet and one from the upper.  Adam (also serving as the film’s narrator, played appealingly by Jim Sturgess) is one of those destitute souls living on the bottom that became an orphan early in life because of a serious misdeed by TransWorld.  Eden (Kristen Dunst) lives in the upper world where she works for TransWorld.  When they were both in their teens they found each other by accident – or maybe cosmic fate? – at the top of a respective mountain peak that left them within shouting distance of one another.  Adam finds a way to pull her down from her world with a rope, but since gravity works differently for her, she will fall back down to her world if not held down by him.  They both fell in love, but their relationship was short-lived when an accidental fall from the lower world back down to the upper left Eden with amnesia.  

Ten years go by, with Adam believing Eden to be dead.  However, when he discovers to his amazement that’s she’s alive, he concocts an inventive plan to infiltrate TransWorld as a worker/inventor so that he can bring down the company from the inside while trying to reconnect with the love of his life.  Complications ensure, of course, as a result of the nature of the world’s gravitational laws, which requires Adam to come up with a plan to ensure that he will appear normal in the upper world.  Then there is the pesky notion of Eden’s amnesia, which proves to be very hard for Adam to crack through. 

The real star of UPSIDE DOWN is unavoidably its strangely beautiful look.  Utilizing visual effects by Montreal’s Vision Globe and many sleight of hand in-camera trickery, Solanas creates a canvas of the hauntingly surreal in envisioning this crazy parallel-planet existence.  After one gets over the initial jolt of seeing people from below observe people from above – which involves many shots of people upside down looking down on those right side up at the bottom – it becomes a joy to be enraptured by this tale of two inverted cityscapes.  Solanas knows how to make bravura usage of space and composition as well, as the film creates moments of painterly exquisiteness alongside ones of pure whimsy.  The initial meeting of Adam and Eden on the mountain tops has a dreamlike aura of the fantastical, and later scenes showing a character freefalling from one planet to the other is awesome in scope.  The film has fun with its premise too, as is the case when Adam tries to relieve himself on the opposite planet, with unintentionally hilarious results. 

It would be easy for the performances to be subjugated by the sheer visual dynamism of a film like this.  Yet, Sturgess and Dunst are an effective tandem here who both wisely play things with an open earnestness and sincerity to help sell the film’s batty premise (Sturgess can play a puppy-dog-eyed/love-struck protagonist in his sleep, but he’s good at it).  One supporting performance by Timothy Spall – playing a TransWorld employee that secretly helps Adam survive his trips incognito while on the upper planet – provides the film with another inviting layer of emotional charm and warmth. 

UPSIDE DOWN is not airtight.  Maybe the characters of Adam and Eden are kind of weakly defined constructs.  Maybe the story of doomed forbidden love is as old as storytelling itself.  Maybe the usage of Eden’s amnesia is a soap opera worthy constraint on the plot.  Maybe this tale of class struggle offers nothing new to say.  Maybe the film’s too talky at times, especially in its expository-heavy opening scene – which explains everything in the film’s universe - that seems to go on for an eternity.  And maybe there are logical loopholes that are never dealt with regarding the rules of the film’s dual planet existence.  For example, if Adam is able to walk on the opposite gravity field while on the upper planet – thanks to special weights – then why doesn’t his clothing hang up and away from him?  Moreover, if matter from the two universes makes contact and eventually burn, wouldn’t the bodies of Adam and Eden, in turn, catch on fire while making love? 

All of this, I guess, really doesn’t matter, because UPSIDE DOWN is driven by its artistic imagination and ingenuity.  It’s a stunningly realized work of science fiction that deserves to be seen to drink in all of its extraordinary visuals that effortlessly transports you into its world.  As a pure out-of-body work of escapism, UPSIDE DOWN is a brilliantly conceived and executed piece of imaginative fantasy that shows that true cinematic originality is not all that dead. 

  H O M E