Friday, January 17, 2014

Upside Down (2012): When good ideas go nowhere

Upside Down (2012)
dir: Juan Diego Solanas

Upside Down is the most innovative, dazzling, crazy, daring movie that is just so vapid, vacant and facile. This is a recipe for disaster of epic proportions.

I don't pull the Showgirls comparison often, but I think that Upside Down suffers from many of the same problems that Showgirls suffers from, and is actually almost as terrible because of it.

Juan Diego Solanas, the writer and director of Upside Down, had a lot of intelligent ideas that he wanted to cram into one epic easy-to-swallow allegory. He created a world of two planets in perpetual synchronization, about 60 stories from each other, or less. The planets each have their own gravity. One planet has developed into a richer, high-income, planet generally referred to as "Up There." The other planet has developed into a slum that is exploited by the businesses from "Up Above." The poor planet is generally called "Down Below."

This is all fine and dandy, being a full on easy allegory making a metaphor for right and wrong side of the tracks. Then, Solanas wanted to further the allegory about the immobility of people among socio-economic statuses. The poor can't become rich, and the rich can't become poor. The metaphor he uses comes in the form of the three rules of the dual planet. This is where it starts getting silly:

  1. All matter and people are pulled from their planet of origin. So, a person born Up Above is beholden to the gravity of Up Above, even as they dally in the world of Down Below.
  2. An object's weight can be offset by using matter of the opposite origin (inverse matter)
  3. After a few hours of contact, matter in contact with inverse matter (and vice versa) burns.
The movie destroyed the laws of physics in order for Juan Diego Solanas to create an comically allegorical world. He wanted to create a world in which the rich do not communicate with the poor except as exploiter/exploited, or management/worker. In the process he also created a system of rules which lead to stunning visuals, such as the "0" floor of the Transworld tower, which bridges the two planets, which has desks on both the floor and the ceiling for their respective employees.

We're still in the world of Gulliver's Travels style allegory. Rules are actually thinly veiled pointed metaphors for socio-political realities. If we had stayed here, it may have been more sensible. But, Solanas wasn't satisfied yet. 

The story of Upside Down is two young romantic leads from either world trysting on two mountains where the worlds are only about 30 ft away. Adam is the poor boy from Down Below, and Eden is the rich girl from Up Above. But, due to the rules, the government and Transworld (the universe's corporation) won't let the two societies fraternize. Eden is injured during a raid, and Adam's aunt's house is burned down with his Aunt Becky killed in the raid for Adam's discretions.

Aunt Becky had been teaching Adam about a special powder/honey that is created by bees in the field near this mountain. This powder is developed by bees that don't really belong to either world, and use material from both worlds. So, the pink powder also belongs to both worlds, and can be used to create illegal tasty floating pancakes.

Yeah, you read that right. A plot point is actually floating pancakes.

As adults, Eden becomes a graphic designer executive for Transworld, while Adam is working to create a facelifting cream to eliminate aging made from the special powder of the floating pancakes. See, Aunt Becky knew what she was doing. Adam, seeing Eden on a television show which used a game show to hire a new graphic designer (making a metaphor of how big a role luck and timing can play in getting hired by big corporations), gets hired by Transworld, and then conspires to see Eden even though it is forbidden.

That's just Act 1. It's a mixture of highly intelligent and highly inane, but all in a dedicated batshit crazy manner. But, really, that's where all the intelligence stops. All of this highly intelligent metaphorical setup is mainly to create a world full of flashy visuals and grand ideas, such as the rich taking a cable car to a restaurant called Paradise built on Down Below, so they can drink from upside down glasses, and dance on the ceiling. Apparently fluids that originated on Down Below actually are pushed down the gullet by an Up Above person, even though one would think that the fluid would rise up in their throat. But, its still an amazing visual.

We're told at the beginning of the movie that through the romance of these two people, the dichotomy of the worlds is destroyed by the romance of Adam and Eden. And, the change from their romance to the equilibrious finale is extremely rushed, not to mention inane and completely idealistic. It doesn't stem from any sort of rioting or overthrow. Instead, its all about that powder. And, so, everybody becomes equal. Or, something. It's really bad.

Which brings us back to the Showgirls comparison. Both Verhoeven and Solanas believed that they were creating Important works that pointed out the harshest truths of society. And, both believed they were creating highly intelligent works. Both show a high level of dedication to their movie, and both have an amazing visual flair that is both stunning and daring. 

But both Showgirls and Upside Down ultimately fall flat in their intention of showing the world as it is. Both scripts suffer from a severe lack of point or intelligence. The acting is mediocre at best in both movies. And, they both strain credulity and believability. 

Unfortunately, Upside Down isn't nearly as offensive and quotable as Showgirls, lacking in verbal one liners to endlessly quote and guffaw at. But, the visuals are breathtaking, and practically their own one-liners. Such as a meeting between Adam and his new boss, where he sits in a solo chair that has to be extended from the ceiling to have an upside down meeting face to face. Or, an image of running with shoes on fire from the burning that happens due to inverse matter and matter contacting each other.

Upside Down is remarkably visual, with stunning special effects. It is breathtakingly original, and has a lot on its mind. Ultimately, however, it loses sight of its goal, and becomes an inane romance with little on its mind besides getting the couple to meet in the final reel. The final result is a singularly insane romance which is a definite social satire and allegory that does nothing with any of the story elements it creates. It's highly recommended simply due to unbelievability and ridiculousness. 

No comments:

Post a Comment