By Kimberly Behzadi.
Upside Down follows the love story of two young people pulled apart by opposing forces. After a floundering theatrical release in early March this year, the film, written and directed by Juan Diego Solanas, has found a small following on the digital platform and is available on Amazon Instant Watch. However, the unique and visually captivating potential of Upside Down is never quite achieved as a standard and unoriginal plot squanders all hope of originality.
Upside Down opens with Adam (Jim Sturgess) narrating the logic of his planet. Adam lives on a unique planet in a world called Down—in the entire galaxy two planets exist next to each other and have dual gravity. The gravity of both planets exists based on 3 rules:
- All matter is pulled by the gravity of the world that it comes from, and not the other.
- An object’s weight can be offset by matter from the opposite world (inverse matter).
- After some time in contact, matter in contact with inverse matter burns.
Upside’s set-up is fairly typical, using visual, societal, and class systems as polar opposites. The poor live in the lower world, known as Down, and frequently called “Down Below.” The rich and elite live in the upper world, known as Up or “Up Above.” Up, per a first world country, takes crude materials such as oil from Down Below and sells over-priced electricity back to the people of Down Below. As traditional of love stories like Romeo & Juliet, intermingling between the denizens of Up and Down is strictly prohibited. The only connection through the company is “TransWorld,” which can only be equated to the “corporation” that would connect first world countries to third world countries in the global market of our world.
Thematically, the story stays faithful to the forbidden love of Romeo & Juliet, or even better to the paring of Aladdin and Princess Jasmine (the rags to riches story arc). Adam grows up in an orphanage and his only relative is his great-Aunt, a woman who holds a family secret of “floating pancakes” that utilize a rare pink pollen collected by bees from both Up and Down—it is the only known matter that exists thanks to both planets, which is rare if you reference back to rule #3. The poor boy then meets the rich Eden (Kirsten Dunst) from Up, while climbing a mountain that scales very close to the forbidden world. And thus the two find an apt meeting grounds for their secret relationship, as Adam uses a rope to pull Eden towards Down. The two are ultimately discovered, and while frantically attempting to return Eden to Up he drops the rope and watches as she falls and hits her head. Adam is arrested, as is his Great-Aunt, and her home is destroyed. The only relic of Adam’s childhood that survives is a special book with the recipes and secrets of the pink pollen.
Ten years later Adam is working on creating an anti-gravity product. He uses the recipes found in his Great-Aunt’s book to create a cosmetic product that can allow matter to feel both gravitational fields at once. Whatever inspired the orphan Adam to use his Great Aunt’s recipe to create a facial cream is beyond reason. He also has two coworkers in the dingy scrap-shop he works at that assist in this creation. Adam sees Eden on television and realizes she in fact survived the accident years ago and works at TransWorld. Adam uses his new invention to gain access to the intermediary world where he hopes to be reunited with his lost lover. Little does he know that since her accident Eden has lost all memories prior to that fated event.
The love story is charming but remains in a fledgling stage. It fails to develop past the niche of those few limited characters introduced, none pushing past thirty minutes of screen time. Adam has two friends from Down and Eden has one female coworker who does nothing but note that Adam is an attractive man. The only redeemable supporting character is Timothy Spall as Ben. He plays a jolly and supportive coworker from Up, who befriends and aids Adam on his quest to meet Eden again. While the love story is small, there are elements to the quest for love that affect the planet on a global level; the fact that two people have a forbidden love, Adam has his pink pollen, and so on, only cause small blips on the news. Sturgess plays the role of Adam well, he is an easy character to sympathize with and root for, but lacks any necessary depth or fundamental flaw. As a boy who lost his entire family to TransVerse, one could hope his debate to “work for the enemy” would be better developed than his split-decision to run full-force after Eden.
Even if the love story is formulaic, Upside Down thrills with its stunning visuals. The contrast of Up and Down, rich and poor, and colors of light and dark are so captivating on the screen that one can compare this world to those created in Cloud Atlas (2012) and Inception (2010). Specifically, the world of Up and Down has the desolation but advanced technology seen in the chapter of Neo Seoul of Cloud Atlas—a mix of outstanding technology and set design, mixed with the rebel movement and despair of Down. Meanwhile, the complex city systems, especially when viewed upside-down, are similar to the complex worlds created by Adrian (Ellen Page) in Inception, sharing complex building structures, transportation, and flying objects. The film’s visuals also give off a fantastical element despite the science fiction roots of the story. When Adam and Eden meet twice at a beautiful restaurant, the lavish chandelier, costumes, and music ignite the allure of historical romance films. At points, I was reminded of the beautiful sets from Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina (2012).
The best indication of a film’s inability to leave a strong impression though, is through reference and comparison. It is easy to find visual cues and compliments from other films, but at the core this means that Upside Down fails to stand on its own as a film with serious merit and worth.
Kimberly Behzadi currently resides in Astoria, New York and works as a talent assistant at International Creative Management Partners. She is a 2012 graduate of the State University of New York in Oswego with a Bachelor of Arts in Cinema & Screen Studies and English Literature. Her previous experiences include being a Production Assistant on Paul Weitz’s film Admission as well as internships with Sony Pictures Classics and Focus Features.