Hello all! This week we’re thinking about the future. There’s a lot of news, and little of it is good. But the nebulous future, though uncertain, always allows for the possibility of improvement. When things are bad, the only option left is for them to get better.
With Dual, Zosha tackles the future of medicine, and the “inconveniences” of new technology. And *RuPaul voice* for the first time in Drag Race Her-story Cate resurfaces an old essay on Downsizing and the future of the planet.
The future is nigh, but there’s still time to change it. Happy movie yelling!
Zosha on Dual
I’m on the record as annoyed when people make jokes about knowing their tethered couldn’t run a mile; I know it’s a joke, I get the humor, but that is the point, the uncanny, the fear when you encounter your doppelganger. You don’t know what they can do. Perhaps, unbeknownst to you, they’ve been training to kill you for an entire year.
That’s the case of Sarah (Karen Gillam), who, upon finding out she was dying from an incurable disease, took advantage of the new technology to replicate herself, and then train the clone to live as her — a “gift” to her loved ones, per the promotional material of the business. But after 10 months her disease goes into remission, and her clone — known as Sarah’s Double (Karen Gillam) — has been living her life better than Sarah ever did. While the double would usually just be decommissioned, Sarah’s Double takes her legal option to petition for personhood. And so the stage is set: One year later, Sarah and her Double will duel to the death; the winner gets to be Sarah.
There is an off-kilter, Yorgos Lanthimos-level cognitive dissonance taking place all over Dual. Sarah’s Double is robotic through the “imprinting” process, just as casually asking Sarah about what foods she likes and what sexual positions she prefers. But Sarah speaks with just as stilted a monotone, always frank and never even crying at how her loved ones drop her in favor of her Double. And once she hires a combat trainer (Aaron Paul) to help her train for the duel, they speak matter of factly about how to encourage her bloodlust, visualize her death, and which weapon is the best to pick (poison is “rarely picked by the court” for these televised double duels, because it’s “slow to work and not as visually stimulating”).
It’s an ethos that ekes out to the world around her as well; in a video introducing her to the cloning company, an original dies by suicide, while the Double calmly walks past and hugs grieving loved ones at the front door. And that’s just in an instructional video. Suffice it to say, this is not a sentimental world, but rather one ground to its bare necessities. In such an environment, it’s hard to know what’s good or bad, what’s appropriate, expected, or even ideal.
Dual is certainly not the type of movie that would appeal to everyone. But there’s something, dare I say, nice buried in the story of a woman studying for a year about how she can kill her identical copy. The movie never settles into what you expect, jumping from plotlines much faster than I’d expected. And still, always hanging over Sarah (and her Double) is the impossibility of the scenario they’re in: What kind of a system asks us to kill each other at the expense of our own sense of normalcy?
In the end, Dual is beguiling. Of the films I watched at the festival, Dual was the one that inspired the most chatter between me and the watchers at the house, and my friends watching the movie elsewhere in the world. It’s not an ending that sits perfectly with me. And yet, it’s one that lodged in my mind, even weeks later as I write this longer dispatch from the festival. Through her quest to kill her clone, Sarah finds something to live for, to snap her out of the complacency with which she was living her life. No wonder in the end it feels so hollow; what can we offer up that would compare?
Cate on Downsizing
There’s always an inherent curiosity built into science-fiction stories that explore the possibilities of what’s to come. You start with an idea and move outward, slowly building a world that is touched in all corners by the effects of some new technology or ability. The implications build, the problems arise, and the narrative forms around reactions to and solutions for a problem entirely of our own making. Downsizing seemed poised to do more of the same until it abandoned its clever premise, bottomed out, and became yet another mediocre film about a white man’s midlife crisis.
In the film, due to impending catastrophic climate change, a scientist invents a new medical procedure called “downsizing“ that shrinks people down to five inches. At their new small size, their impact on the environment and waste production is significantly decreased. Facing financial problems and enticed by the increase in value their savings would have should they downsize, Paul (Matt Damon) and Audrey Safranek (Kristen Wiig) elect to undergo the procedure and move to a “small community“ in New Mexico. But after enduring the transition, Paul awakes to find that Audrey has changed her mind, neglected to undergo the procedure, and is leaving him to live in “Leisureland“ alone. The rest of the film centers on Paul’s relationship with his neighbor’s Vietnamese housecleaner and dissident, Ngoc Lan Tran (Hong Chau), who was downsized by her government as punishment for civil disobedience and later smuggled into the US.
The two eventually make it to Norway where the original small community still exists, only to discover that they will soon be heading underground into a bunker to survive the climate event they believe is coming. Paul wants to join them, thinking that his life of mishaps has led him to this rare opportunity, but Ngoc Lan insists that he is foolish to go, and he can do more good by returning with her to the slums where she lives and continuing to tend to its poor and needy residents.
The problems with this movie are manyfold but the biggest is simply that is lags dreadfully in the middle. The interesting premise is nearly abandoned altogether and instead becomes yet another meditation on the meaning of life. The film’s first third does a good job of setting up the problem: climate change is coming and something must be done. The incentives to downsize are mostly financial: the middle class can live like kings as their needs are diminished and their dollars stretch farther. On the other hand, there are economic issues involved as so many people opt out of the workforce. Some people aren’t eligible for the procedure due to illness or disability. The procedure is used by hostile governments to get rid of protestors. Borders are less secure as downsized people are easily smuggled between countries. There is a lot of meat and possibility in these issues. It was reminiscent of 2009’s Timer and the way a simple change had ever-blossoming ramifications for the people in the story.
But at its heart, Downsizing is about Paul feeling lost, unsure, and without purpose. Meeting Ngoc Lan allows him access to a world he was not previously privy to, but the poor of Leisureland exist mostly to make Paul feel useful again. It’s a missed opportunity that Paul eats up so much of the plot when Chau’s Ngoc Lan was by far the most interesting character, imbued with a depth of emotion and density of feeling that is often hard to come by in roles that skew so close to racial stereotyping. But Chau is brilliant in the role, bringing a defiant dismissiveness that is fun to watch, but also well-earned given the character’s backstory. Damon’s performance isn’t bad per se, it is simply nothing that stretches his range. At no point does the film really make an effort to engender real sympathy for him. Instead, it assumes the audience brings that coming in, and insulting and incorrect supposition.
Downsizing is mostly a disappointment because it feels like a waste of a brilliant idea. Instead of honing in on the specifics of the impact of this technology, it pivots in the opposite direction and forces us to spend time solving the least interesting part of the equation. There were so many easy fixes that could have made this at the very least, an enjoyable dark satire, instead of an overlong examination of the impossibility of being.
Assorted Internet Detritus
ZOSHA: A look at the science behind the increasingly micro workouts. The legend of my dad’s 50 boyfriends. We’re failing to prepare our children to talk about climate change. It’s Yu-Gi-Oh’s world and we’re stuck living in it. A defense of FMA (2003)! The MCU isn’t built for Moon Knight.
CATE: A definitive ranking of scammer TV shows, how movies have changed to reflect school shootings, more millennials on generational trauma, on the importance of yearning, MTV’s lost generation, and the menopause multiverse.
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Zosha + Cate <3
Me at first: Wow, how have I never heard of downsizing?
Me halfway through the review: aw, shit.
At any rate, thanks for introducing me to two new films for my list!