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Can Downsizing save the world?

Matt Damon’s new movie goes small to have a go at big issues

Winner of the Best Original Idea in movies this year is… Downsizing. Released on Boxing Day, Matt Damon’s latest comedy drama imagines an extreme way of reducing the impact that humans can have on our planet.

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Go small. Really, really small.

Through some science-like concept that a group of on-screen boffins call “cellular reduction”, Downsizing depicts what might happen when people are miniaturised to a tiny percentage of their usual size. Becoming a small person doesn’t just shrink your stature; everything from your carbon footprint to the cost of living is significantly diminished when you are the size of an ant.

Yes, crime and the gulf between rich and poor remains in a downsized community.

Basically, shrinking ourselves seems to hold the potential to do less damage, as well as serving up a richer life.

But when everyday bloke Paul (Damon) goes small, he discovers the threat of extinction is constant to humanity. Just because he’s a mini man living in a teeny place, Paul and his neighbours have not escaped how people are still people. For all the sales pitch Paul received that downsizing is about saving the world, plenty of people are doing it so they can magnify their bank account and live like millionaires.

Two characters embody how the Downsizing perspective on life does not prove to be the cure for humanity’s worse elements. Oscar winner Christoph Waltz stars as Dusan, an ant-sized gangster playboy who rationalises that no-one is going to waste time trying to stop his microscopic crime empire. Meanwhile, Christian political activist Ngoc Lan Tran (charming livewire Hong Chau) is shrunk against her will and forced into micro-servitude. Yes, crime and the gulf between rich and poor remains in a downsized community. So do many other negative aspects of us, from greed and exploitation, to consumerism and deceit.

Downsizing tends to treat the symptoms, not the sickness, of the human condition.

Downsizing is full of cool concepts and will make you think hard about what our options are for keeping the lights on as the human race.

But like you and I and everybody else can often do, Downsizing tends to treat the symptoms, not the sickness, of the human condition. Downsizing raises plenty of problems with being human but doesn’t quite call us out on what our main problem is.

While admitting that despite our intelligence, humans aren’t nearly as successful at life as we ought to be, Downsizing stops short of diagnosing what the creative film vividly paints as our No. 1 challenge to survival: our selfish hearts.

How do I downsize that?

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