A film review by Craig J. Koban May 7, 2013
2013, PG-13, 107 mins.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.