Though its title may evoke something small-scale, Downsizing, the ambitious new feature from writer-director-auteur Alexander Payne, could not be more opposite. The typically character-centric filmmaker has stepped out of his realm slightly and opted to go for a story with incredible scope, deciding to tackle a cacophony of important ideas and themes, while framing them all around the trials and tribulations of Matt Damon’s Payne-like everyman. Through a high-concept sci-fi premise, Payne presents a timely social satire tackling many of the same issues as us, through a slightly exaggerated lens.
Paul Safranek (Damon), an occupational therapist from Omaha, is unhappy. He gave up his dreams of being a doctor to care for his ailing mother, and he continues to live his life under the shadow of disappointment. Luckily for him, science has chosen this moment to unveil a solution to one of man’s biggest dilemmas: how to solve overpopulation. Scientists are now able to shrink humans to five inches tall, meaning they needs a fraction-of-a-fraction of the amount of resources to survive and create a minimal amount of waste. Not only is this a way to save the world, it — more importantly to him — provides Paul a way to escape from his dreary life.
Needless to say, this film is a fascinating way to explore some very typical human emotions and experiences, while also examining a bigger picture. Payne’s signature wit adds some much needed levity to the depressing concepts he tackles here, which range from overpopulation to climate change to voting rights to class disparity, and the list goes on. While the scale of these themes could seem like too much to cover within a single film, Payne’s incredible penchant at getting to the centre of the human condition and focusing on the specific grounds the film in a way that could elude less experienced filmmakers. In the end, we are reminded that at the centre of all these issues are people, and each person’s journey is one worth discovering.