The science fiction comedy-drama film Downsizing, directed by Alexander Payne, is about a procedure humans can undergo to shrink their entire body and start life in a new community. The initial idea for the procedure was to help mankind reduce the amount of trash, waste, and energy used by regular sized humans, and in time be able to save the planet and mankind. The film follows Paul Safranek whom decides to become small with his wife, Audrey, and start a new life, however his wife unfortunately backs out of the procedure and they divorce. Forcing Paul to start a new life in a completely different world on his own.
In the film, the main reason a lot of humans were downsizing was because their money would increase substantially because everything would be smaller. They could live in a mansion and get out of financial debt, just as Paul and Audrey were planning to do. However, thinking about the currency change between regular sized human and the downsized it is interesting to think about poverty and how that ties into race and ethnicity. For instance, when Paul is in his apartment having dinner with his date, his neighbor, Dusan Mirkovic, is having a huge party, Paul goes up to join the party and makes the comment that, “there’s a lot of Europeans.” This is interesting because it is true, we only see European people at the party and a few African Americans. Moreover, the next day when the party is over Mirkovic has cleaning people come over, whom are portrayed as the stereotypical minorities. Vietnamese, Filipino, and Hispanic individuals that don’t speak much English.
Stereotypical minorities are further portrayed when Paul goes home with Hong Chau, the disabled house-keeper, and is surprised to find that she lives in a community that is outside the border of Leisureland, and is in poverty-like conditions. In which, once again most of the individuals in this community are those of the stereotypical minorities. It is interesting to see, that in this film, the community of Leisureland identifies with the stereotypical portrayal of western communities in films, in which we identify, that the white man is the main character, and colored individuals are identified as the minority and/or villains.
Furthermore, this film was blatantly racist to induce humor, and that is clearly displayed through the character of Hong Chau and the way she speaks. Hong Chau has a heavy Vietnamese accent that it is mainly used for a humorous effect, such as when we are first introduced to her and Paul asks what she is doing going through Mirkovic’s pill cabinet and she responds [asking about the pills], “what dis do?…how about dis, what dis do?” As well as, later in the film after Paul and Hong sleep together, Hong confronts Paul asking if it was “a love-fuck, pitty-fuck, make-up-fuck, breakup-fuck.” This is clearly racists and portrays Hong and her Vietnamese ethnicity through the stereotypical lens of Vietnamese as a minority, and making fun of the way they speak. Furthermore, it is interesting that this film did not focus too much on race and ethnicity and its correlation to the social classes, especially since this is a completely new community that is supposed to invoke a better and higher life. As we see, Paul and other individuals are still in the same “society” as those of regular sized humans, they still have a 9-5 job, there is still poverty and distinctions between social classes. Although it is presented, Paul never at one point truly comments about the social division. I was expecting Paul to at least comment or talk to Rolf Lassgard, the inventor of downsizing, when they see him in person, and bring up flaws in the downsizing communities. However, nothing is truly done, Paul and Hong move in together and they make trips to the community to deliver food, but they never go to a higher authority to voice their concerns, as I would have expected them to do.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed this film, and would recommend it to others. It was immensely humorous and original. Downsizing makes you think about our world and humanities future through it themes of sustainability, but also makes you laugh with the characters and the journey and struggles they go through.