The movie ‘Upside Down’ is yet another retelling of a tale of star crossed lovers with a distinctive science fiction twist. Instead of two houses in constant contention the insurmountable barrier is provided by the setting; two planets nearly touching, Up and Down. The population of Down is of the lower caste while the Up population are rich and prosperous. Although a set of rules are clearly laid out the premise does have the tendency to infuriate the rationally inclined members of the audience. From a personal perspective I was more inclined to overlook such factors and focus on the insight on humanity and relationships it provides. Others have proclaimed distain siting an incomprehensible plot. As a fan of alternate, experimental fiction such as one of my favorites is Dhalgren by Samuel R. Delany, which literally curves back in on itself. If either objection is a deal breaker for you the chances are overwhelming you will not enjoy this movie, which is a shame. However if you are interested in Sci-Fi that seeks to challenge your established perceptions, a fundamental function of good fiction, then read on and, more importantly, obtain this offering and enjoy having your perspectives confronted.
Adam (Jim Sturgess) lives on Down in an orphanage. He lost both parent in an industrial accident at an oil refinery facility. The exposition necessary to continue is neatly gotten out of the way by Adam, and subsequently the audience, told the nature of his planet. Up and Down are unique being bound by ‘Dual Gravity’. This allows then to co-exist at what would normally be an impossibly close proximity. The rules of this unusual planetary juxtaposition are:
One day while a boy an adventurous thought took hold as are prone to happen to children of that age. He traveled to a tall mountain in order to get as close to Up as possible; something forbidden within the context of their society with contact between populations punishable by lengthy incarceration or the death sentence. Adam breaks that regulation on that mountain top when he meets a girl from Up, Eden. They surreptitiously continue to meet at that isolated peak developing a relationship. At one point Adam uses a rope to pull Eden to Down so they can enjoy a walk together. The authorities discover them shooting at Adam injuring him but he manages to return Eden to her world. Returning home his beloved Great-Aunt is under arrest and her home in ruin.
We cut to ten years later where Adam is busy creating antigravity products based on an old recipe used by his great aunt involving bees that gather pollen from both worlds. Adam has inherited the only strain of the insects in existence. After a while he incorporates the substance into a cosmetic product. Adam sees Eden on television; an employee of TransWorld, a mega corporation that maintained the only legally sanctioned contact between worlds. With the help of a friend in TransWorld from Up, Bob (Timothy Spall), Adam sets out to reconnect with Eden. When the finally do met Eden can’t remember their clandestine relationship as teens due to amnesia inflicted during that fateful encountered years ago. Adam secret of allowing matter to feel the gravitational pull of both planets is a process coveted by TransGlobal who are willing to go to extremes to obtain it.
Right off it should be noted that the story contains all the elements necessary for another sappy love story set in a location as far away from Verona as possible. While this is certainly achieved it is not the primary intention of the piece. The screen writer/director Juan Solanas takes the story into a vastly deeper examination of the human condition utilizing the tropes and themes that endure from Shakespeare’s original and most importantly, without sacrificing the entertainment quotient of the film. He manages this with two distinctive approaches; his role as author and the stylistic choices he makes as director to bring the story to life on the screen. The mandatory separation of the young lovers has frequently been described as ‘star crossed’ or ‘from two different worlds’. While families engaged in a bitter feud or rival street gangs fit this this description rather well Solanas has taken the categorization literally with two planets physically and socially diametrically opposed. This also brings up another interesting factor of Solanas’ work here. It is impossible to dissociate his function as writer from that as director. Under most examples of this common approach to filmmaking it is usually feasible to dissect the authorship from directorial style to a degree. In this movie they are so interwoven, so co-dependent that to separate them is to ignore the fundamental emotional impact of the movie.
Consistent with the concept of turning Romeo and Juliet on its head Solanas visually challenges you scene of perception with a mind altering visual of a sky not filled with the familiar blue broken by the occasional cloud is eschewed in favor of an alternate landscape hovering overhead. The worlds are almost touching; a fact essential to the pair’s meeting, yet the constraints imposed by the government makes it into a capital offense. The infusion of the stringent caste system does instill an element of political relevance to the proceedings which in the context utilized here is a spice not a dominant flavor to the offering. This does also manage to provide a reference point for the audience to connect with the impossible circumstances imposed by the conditions of the story. While not overly played this factor is critical to suspending belief and dismissing everything we rely on concerning physics.
The danger that is present with a film like this is for the special effects to completely overwhelm the humanistic elements of the movie. Perhaps it is the fact that Solanas is relatively new as a filmmaker but he sticks to his primary function as story teller instead of ring master for a CGI three ring circus. With a budget excessive for an independent film it does retain the spirit of the Indy sector of cinema. The movie is centered by the emotional content not the other planet hanging in the sky. The cast selected to present this movie is excellent, well-chosen with the right actors for their roles. Jim Sturgess has been expanding his career with a variety of parts including one of the most under estimated movies of the year ‘Cloud Atlas’ where he distinguished himself as one of the few participants in all six segments. Kirsten Dunst has been honing her craft steadily since childhood. Exhibiting the ability to be equally at home in mainstream studio productions and quirky independent films like this and the equally visually and celestial oriented ‘Melancholia’ she once again demonstrates a talent to bring the audience into a story.
While this is one of the strangest movies you are likely to encounter it is one that must not be dismissed off handedly. It will challenge you on unexpected levels and make you reconsider the potential for a story you have seen in countless revisions and incarnations. You don’t watch this movie as much as experience it. Solanas demonstrates one more aspect to his talent that places him in an elite group of filmmakers; he has a better understanding of how to infuse the illusion of depth afforded by the current 3D techniques than the majority of his peers. The use of 3D is organic, there but not overly calling attention to itself. It is infused in the extraordinary visuals without relating a gimmicky feel to the viewers. While the 3D is exceptionally utilized it does not pull all of your attention to itself. For most of the film it is there, enhancing the realism not for the burst out of the visual plane the majority of 3D movies restrict the technique to.
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