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Film / Downsizing

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"Why did I downsize? So that I could be here right now. I finally have a chance to do something that matters!"
Dave Johnson: Downsizing takes the pressure right off.
Paul Safranek: Plus you're really making a difference.
Dave: You mean all that crap about saving the planet?
Paul: Yeah.
Dave: Downsizing is about saving yourself. We live like kings. We got the best houses, the best restaurants. Cheesecake Factory, we got three of them.

Downsizing is a 2017 science fiction and social satire movie directed by Alexander Payne. It stars Matt Damon, Kristen Wiig, Christoph Waltz, Hong Chau, Laura Dern, Rolf Lassgård and Udo Kier.

As a solution to over-population, Norwegian scientists discover how to shrink humans to 5 inches (13 centimeters) tall and propose a 200-year global transition from big to small. People soon realize how much further money goes in a miniaturized world, and with the promise of a better life, everyman Paul Safranek (Damon) decides to abandon his stressed life in Omaha in order to become small and move to a new downsized community — a choice that triggers life-changing adventures.

Previews: Trailer 1, Trailer 2.

Downsizing contains examples of:

  • All for Nothing:
    • Paul's decision to go through the downsizing procedure becomes this when Audrey backs out of it at the last minute; he's got the house of his dreams and more money than he knows what to do with, but has no one to share it with. And even that doesn't last, since Audrey takes the lion's share of the money when she divorces Paul, which forces him to move into a tiny apartment.
    • The creation of downsizing is revealed to have come too late near the film's end; not enough people have undergone the procedure in time to reduce global warming and a catastrophic amount of methane has been released in the arctic, which will result in humanity's extinction. However, the original script does show that the descendants of the Norwegian colony have survived into the future after the extinction event, although they have regressed to a more tribal/low-tech existence.
  • Ambiguous Situation: At the end, did Paul really return to the surface for love, or did he just chicken out at finding out he'd have to walk for eleven hours straight to get to the bunker (and the resulting realisation that life in the bunker would probably be quite harsh and physically demanding)? Knowing Paul, it could have been either, or a combination of both.
  • Apocalypse How: The earth is facing a class 4 with all humans and many other species going extinct due to global warming.
  • An Arm and a Leg: Ngoc Lan Tran had to get one of her legs amputated due to suffering from gangrene.
  • Artistic License – Biology: Downsizing appears to have no impact on breathing or other biological functions. The only difficulty is apparently adjusting to milk and dairy.
  • Artistic License – Physics: Downsizing should either make you freeze to death as all your body heat is lost, or leave you with the metabolism and eating habits of similar sized creatures, but also give you the sort of strength:weight that lets you bench press a proportionally sized car with ease. Also, the apparent net loss of mass should result in an equal gain in light and thermal energy in the downsizing chamber.
  • Bilingual Bonus: Several lines are said in untranslated Spanish.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Earth is doomed but Paul and Lan Tran are happy to live together and there are some downsized humans hiding in a bunker to reemerge when the surface is habitable.
  • Brick Joke:
    • As he is dropped off at his new house, Paul is warned that the hot water runs off a single system and is set rather high. When he tries to take a shower, he starts screaming obscenities from the heat.
    • Konrad jokes that Little Ronni will contract syphilis due to his promiscuous lifestyle. At the end of the film Ronni is seen with a big sore on his mouth, an early sign of it.
  • Central Theme:
    • Do ways to improve our lives and get richer really build happiness and acceptance?
    • As the poster tagline says, "we are all meant for something bigger".
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The audience learns early that prosthetics, like fake teeth and fillings, are not affected by the shrinking procedure, and must be removed and replaced. Later, we learn that a remaining gold tooth made a patient's head explode when he attempted to undergo downsizing in Mexico.
    • The methane being released in the Arctic is predicted to cause global extinction.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Lan Tran is mentioned early on in the news and later shows up as a main character.
  • Class Reunion: Paul goes to one with Audrey. He talks with an old friend who is now an anesthetist (whereas he is only an occupational therapist, while he wanted to be a surgeon). He also meets another friend who has downsized.
  • Crippling Castration: Averted. When Paul wakes up, he checks his genitals, and is relieved to find them intact.
  • Decoy Protagonist: Audrey. After divorcing Paul, she no longer appears, and is effectively replaced midway through the film by Lan Tran as the film's co-protagonist and eventually, Paul's new love interest.
  • Disabled Love Interest: The one legged Lan Tran eventually hooks up with Paul.
  • Domed Hometown: The downsized communities are placed under domes to limit exposure to environmental hazards, such as insects.
  • Explain, Explain... Oh, Crap!: After Audrey calls him from the airport saying she backed out of downsizing, Paul doesn't seem to realize she's ditching him at Leisureland until after he asks her to come back and pick him up.
    Paul: Okay, okay. Take it easy. Just get in a taxi and come back, and we'll talk about this, okay? We'll go back to Omaha and we'll think this through together. ...Wait... You're not leaving me here.
  • Fallen-on-Hard-Times Job: Paul wanted to be a surgeon, but he gave up his studies to take care of his sick mother. So he became an occupational therapist. Things get worse for him in Leisureland: he has a telemarketing job, then he even works as a housekeeper.
  • Funny Foreigner: Ngoc Lan Tran, her funny accent and her broken grammar are a source of humour in the film. Moreover, she has funny ideas about American society:
    Ngoc Lan Tran: American people, eight kind of fuck. Love fuck, hate fuck, sex-only fuck, break-up fuck, make-up fuck, drunk fuck, buddy fuck, pity fuck.
  • Green Aesop: In-Universe. Officially, people are encouraged to shrink to save resources, and thus save the Earth. However, Paul is encouraged to undergo the procedure because it could also help himself.
  • Inspirationally Disadvantaged: Ngoc Lan Tran is a one-legged woman. She still helps her poor neighbors. She also helps Paul, the white male protagonist, to understand the real value of life.
  • It's All About Me:
    • Audrey ends up backing out of the procedure at the last minute, unable to give up her family and friends. Her attempt to apologize comes off as rather pathetic as she mainly talks about how terrible she feels and trying to paint herself as the victim in all this. It results in a divorce.
    • Paul is a normal, well-meaning person but he is a real opportunist and when he hears about the process of downsizing he becomes more focused on making his life better than what his wife thinks. However, she did agree to it, at least until the last minute, making this one somewhat subverted.
    • Also, after Paul (on what seems to be only their second date) suggests that Kristen introduce him to her little boy and she kindly makes the completely valid point that it's way too early for that, he grows petulant and immediately dismisses her, making it clear it's all over.
  • Jerkass: One bar patron feels that the downsized people should not have the right to vote because of all the benefits they gain that normal people do not, while completely overlooking the personal sacrifice they have to make in return.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Christoph Waltz's character comes across as a total party-loving asshole at first, but he is happy and does help Paul with his issues and current situation.
  • Just Before the End: It turns out that the impetus for the downsizing project is the Earth is on the verge of an ecological catastrophe, and the reason for shrinking people is to fit as many people as possible into the emergency shelters made to preserve the human race.
  • Keet: Leisureland Guide Matt.
  • Lilliputians: People are shrunk to 5 inches, and normal world accommodations are built to scale for them.
  • Loser Protagonist: It is mentioned several times that everything Paul undertakes fails (his studies, his downsizing, his marriage, his integration into the Norwegian community...).
  • Magical Negro: Ngoc Lan Tran, a minority character, helps Paul, the white male protagonist, to understand the real value of life. In particular, he starts helping the poor and going to mass thanks to her.
  • Male Frontal Nudity: Seen during the explanation of downsizing and during Paul's downsizing procedure.
  • Manic Pixie Dream Girl: Ultimately subverted. Paul is brooding because his marriage failed and his life in Leisureland is much less pleasant than expected. He meets Ngoc Lan Tran, an upbeat and wacky girl, who is always full of energy in spite of the hardship she experienced. Finally, they fall in love with each other. However, unlike the typical example of the trope, Lan Tran is a person with independent needs and desires of her own, as she makes clear in the third act.
  • Mistaken Nationality: Paul's mother saw Jørgen Asbjørnsen on TV, and called him "the little Swedish man". "Norwegian", Paul corrects. This is also a Shout-Out, as Asbjørnsen is portrayed by Rolf Lassgård, a Swedish actor.
  • "Nations of the World" Montage: Used when the discovery of the downsizing technique is announced. People in different countries are shown (Korea, Spain, India...). It ends with Paul hearing the news in a bar.
  • Never Trust a Trailer:
    • The trailers implied that Paul's mind-numbing telemarketing job is what inspires him to undergo the procedure, but in the movie it's actually a job he's forced to take afterwards, when downsizing doesn't provide the life of luxury he expected.
    • The trailers also show Paul and his friends tapping a bottle of Absolut vodka like it's a keg. This never happens, but Dušan does transport several bottles of Absolut (among other things) to the colony in Norway near the end of the film.
  • No Antagonist: The film is just about Paul finding his place in the small world.
  • Running Gag: Several characters cannot pronounce correctly the name of the protagonist, Safranek.
  • Samaritan Syndrome: Zigzagged by Paul. He gave up a career as a doctor to nurse his sick mother. His only really selfish act is the downsizing.
  • Scenery Porn: The final scenes in Norway. Exaggerated by the small people's size.
  • Shrink Ray: A group of Norwegian scientists discovers how to shrink humans to 5 inches. The effect is irreversible. It also only works on organic matter. Deconstructed as the film explores the economic and social consequences of whole communities downsized, and some of the biological hazards.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism vs. Cynicism: Somewhere in the middle.
  • Surprisingly Realistic Outcome: Downsizing is sold as utopia where everyone lives in relative wealth due to small things being cheaper, but that doesn't mean wealth inequality doesn't still exist. Indeed, once the big money runs out, people find themselves working the same kind of jobs they used to with their pays scaled smaller.
  • Twofer Token Minority: Lan Tran, who is the only significant character of color in the movie, lost her leg due to getting an infection when she was smuggled into the US.
  • Urban Segregation: The disadvantaged small people live in a ghetto outside the planned neighborhood, made out of a normal-sized shack.
  • Utopia: How shrinking and living in a micro-world is sold to the people. Preservation of the planet's resources, wealth due to even one person's modest income being more than enough for said person if he/she shrinks...
  • We All Die Someday: Ngoc Lan Tran learned this from the abuses she's suffered, which is why she's so stoical about things.
  • What the Hell Is That Accent?: Subverted. The film received some criticism about Hong Chau's Vietnamese accent, with some claiming it was so thick and overdone that it was offensive. Not only did Chau base her accent off of her own Vietnamese relatives, accent experts and Vietnamese citizens alike agreed that it was spot-on.
  • World Half Full: None of the characters in the movie are either perfect nor all bad. Downsizing isn't as good as advertised, but nor is it a horrible mistake. And the human race is doomed to extinction, but here and now it's still possible to live a meaningful life.
  • Workplace-Acquired Abilities: Paul's medical skill turns out useful many times during the story.
  • Worst Aid: Lan Tran overdoses her friend with painkillers, not heeding Paul's suggestion that two would be sufficient. The woman was dying of cancer anyway, so Lan Tran is just glad she died peacefully.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: The shrinking process is irreversible, forcing participants to leave their old lives and move into small communities. This ultimately scares Audrey into backing out at the last second.
  • You No Take Candle: Ngoc Lan Tran speaks English with a heavy Vietnamese accent and she omits articles, auxiliary verbs, etc.
    Ngoc Lan Tran: Now maybe you understand little bit how I feel after survive TV box.