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Alexander Payne

From Gulliver’s Travels to The Borrowers, stories which play around with size and scale have been an endless source of fascination, rich with detail that makes us look at our own world differently. Alexander Payne’s (About Schmidt, Sideways) new film Downsizing uses the device to make a strong statement about contemporary materialism.

“…it is true that Downsizing is no fairytale.”

In Norway, Dr. Jorgen Asbjørnsen (Wallander’s Rolf Lassgard) develops a process by which he can successfully shrink humans, founding a pioneering ‘small’ community in the idyllic fjords. Measuring only 13 centimetres tall, Asbjørnsen and his fellow guinea pigs believe they have found the solution to the world’s environmental problems. And so, apparently, does the rest of the world, as communities of tiny inhabitants start springing up around the globe. Leisureland, one such development, is a gloriously fake slice of Americana where little people live seemingly happy lives in huge, soulless mansions they could only dream of affording back home in large land. For Paul Safranek (Matt Damon) and his chirpy wife Audrey (Kristen Wiig), downsizing seems to be the answer to their prayers. Trading in their humdrum middle-class life, they say goodbye to their friends and family in the big world for a new start in a small one. However, not everything goes according to plan in the transformation process and Paul is forced to re-examine the very essence of what it means to be human, miniature or otherwise.

Payne, who has a long history of sailing close to the edge of uncomfortableness, has been criticized for the characterisation (bordering on racial stereotyping) of some of the supporting characters in his latest work. Certainly, despite the humour and terrific special effects, it is true that Downsizing is no fairytale. In this new utopia where everything is smaller, society's problems are just as big.