Saturday, December 12, 2015

UPSIDE DOWN (2012): An #ArchiveDay Repost

Theatrical Poster for UPSIDE DOWN - image source: Next Projection
Theatrical Poster for UPSIDE DOWN - image source: Next Projection

Editor's Note: TFK posted the following review on a now-defunct legacy blog in August 2013. It has been edited for reposting on Twitter's Saturday #ArchiveDay.

Billed as a "sci-fi romance," UPSIDE DOWN starts out looking like a futuristic dystopia. However, its incipient and potentially powerful social, economic, and political messages are overshadowed by its impressive special effects and its "boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, boy-gets-girl-back" storyline.

UPSIDE DOWN was written and directed by Juan Solanas, an Argentinian director, screenwriter, and cinematographer. First released in Asia in 2012, the independent film eventually had theatrical runs worldwide. It appeared in theaters in the United States in May 2013. It received six award nominations on the festival circuit. The film had a worldwide box-office gross of $22.1 million on an estimated budget of $60 million (per IMDb).


Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) are childhood friends who are literally from different worlds. Each lives on one of a pair of planets that, through a freak of astrophysics, orbit their star together. Their alignment is so close that buildings and other structures can bridge the two planets.

A voice-over by Adam at the movie's beginning outlines the basic laws that govern this pairing. Each planet has its own gravity field. Matter from one planet continues to be attracted to the gravitational pull of its planet of origin when it is taken to the other planet. In this situation, matter (called "inverse matter" when not on its home planet) will burst into flames unless it is artificially cooled.

Office space at Transworld in UPSIDE DOWN

This is not the only boundary crossing that can have dire consequences. The two planets are also distinguished by social and economic inequality. Eden's planet's wealth is symbolized by Transworld, a mega-corporation whose headquarters is one of the main bridges between the two planets. Transworld exploits Adam's planet into abject poverty, siphoning off its natural resources, which it sells back as high-priced electrical power.

The people of the two planets are not allowed to mix, a law that is ruthlessly enforced. Adam meets Eden when they are both children.  However, an accident related to their illicit childhood meetings causes Eden to lose her conscious memories of Adam, although they continue to bubble up from her unconscious in her dreams. Meanwhile, Adam does not know whether Eden survived the physical trauma of her accident until he sees her on television when both are young adults. His quest to reunite with her forms the basic story arc.

UPSIDE DOWN: Commentary

The story's use of folklore is one of its artistic strengths. Although technologically primitive by comparison to its wealthy sister world, Adam's planet has a hidden strength in its natural phenomena. Adam finds that he is the heir to secret knowledge, passed on to him by his aunt in an old, weathered tome, of how to control the power of these phenomena. One of these secrets becomes the key to solving the plot's major conflict, the fundamental difference between the two planets.

Adam solves this dilemma by applying science to folklore, demythologizing the latter in the process. This sets up a very interesting dichotomy between high technology and natural forces. The former, produced by humans on Eden's world, is used by them to exploit Adam's world and its inhabitants. Unbeknownst to them, Nature has worked out a solution to the apparently unbridgeable physical gulf between the two planets.

Still from UPSIDE DOWN

This solution also holds the key to resolving the social, economic, and political divisions between the two human societies. However, any points that the film is attempting to make that apply to the world of its viewers are somewhat obscured by an overemphasis on the romance between Eden and Adam and by the film's feel-good happy ending.

UPSIDE DOWN includes above-average performances by Dunst and Sturgess and outstanding work by Timothy Spall in a key supporting role.  Its use of special effects to represent the phenomena of the twin planets is impressive, but to a degree that somewhat distracts the viewer from both the story line and its underlying themes.  Overall the film is recommended for its visuals, although it seems to have sacrificed some of the potential of its story, which might disappoint. TFK gave it 4 out of 10 stars on IMDb.