Downsizing was not what I was expecting.
Well, I take that back, partially. The first act of Downsizing, which is screening this week here at the Toronto International Film Festival, plays out at least in the realm of what a normal person might expect from the advertising. Matt Damon plays Paul Safranek, an Omaha native (of course he is, this is an Alexander Payne movie) who is struggling to make ends meet working as an occupational therapist for Omaha Steaks. (He had to drop out of medical school to care for his ailing mother.)
Meanwhile, researchers in Norway have invented Downsizing, a process that shrinks a human being down to approximately five inches invented as a way to combat overpopulation and make humans less dependent on natural resources. Downsizing appeals to certain segments of the population because a struggling middle-class worker can live like a king after they are shrunk – which is why Paul and his wife, Audrey (Kristin Wiig) decide to downsize themselves and live in a tiny mansion in a tiny downsized community in New Mexico called LeisureLand Estates.
The process of downsizing is a little more horrifying than the sales brochure lets on. First, a patient’s body hair is completely removed. Then, any fillings or other dental work have to be removed because dental work doesn’t shrink and, if they remained while a person was downsized, that person’s head would explode. Regardless, Paul is determined to go through with this and it’s around this point that the movie starts going in quite a few different directions that are impossible to predict.
After watching Downsizing, it’s hard not to imagine that Alexander Payne is feeling pretty apocalyptic these days. Downsizing is Payne’s most ambitious movie, but that also might be his worst enemy here. In one film, Payne and longtime co-writer Jim Taylor take on climate change, overpopulation, race relations, immigration, disenfranchised voters, the complete extinction of the human species, and doomsday cults. (Yes, there’s a lot going on in Downsizing.)