Monday, December 25, 2017


The film is ostensibly about how a bad environment can be forced onto you -- an overcrowded planet, an economy that makes it dangerous to take financial risks -- but is more centrally interested in whether one is in full command of making the best decision for yourself, regardless of how existing exigencies of environment could work for or against leverage to one's choice. Paul Safranek makes the decision to forgo his part-way-done surgeon's education because his mother is ill and without anybody else to care for her. Caring for her fate, he agrees to forgo the career he most wanted to pursue for one he rightly understands he'll still take considerable pleasure from -- being a physiotherapist. His decision is moved by true decency, an ostensible strength, impervious to qualification, but it seems dubious until later in the film whether or not what it actually is is a liability, a character flaw, if accompanied by a lack of broad knowledge, by ignorance -- of the current ways of the world, of others' duplicity and willingness to use other people. He goes to a convention where he meets a friend who actually finished his surgeon's training, and he greets Safranek as if he was face to face with a contagion, someone who had willingly taken on a virus and allowed it to near obliterate his worth as a person. And this is what Safranek had done, for in this society there are people who really count and there are people who are construed as those serving them, and in letting himself fall into the latter group what he'd basically done is agreed to drop down a significant notch as a human being -- from amongst the proud elect, to amongst the marginal. In any fair accounting of it at all, there has to be no place in the "being good" handbook where one must feel morally obliged to care for your parents when it means this level of cost, when the stakes for your own life will end up running this high. You lose the career that was most interesting to you, you lose a comfortable lifestyle and the absence of money troubles, you lose becoming sophisticated, on being broadened (which plays on your love of books -- we notice the stacks of them in his bookcase), as none of your peers -- who work at a meatpacking plant -- will be those who read the New Yorker or go to art exhibits, you lose regard by your fellows as someone who is an upstanding citizen, someone to reckon with, a leader. With all that on the line, the situation-adjusted revamp on the right thing to do would have been something, not as drastic, but along the same lines of Ngoc Lan Tran, the political refugee he ends up meeting, giving the "mother" she is taking care of more "happy" pills than she requires, thus having her die promptly, pretty much right before her, in fact, but with a sweet smile on her face... and then off to a career as a surgeon, with perhaps his mother in "heaven" glad to have him properly along on his proper journey, or even not. The fact that this lady actually had cancer whereas Safranek's mother is afflicted by the dubious fibromyalgia -- a disease which afflicts one early and which no one can tell from just being the pains any lonely person is likely to accumulate just from bad living, but has been given enough publicity to parasite as sufficiently "cancer equivalentish" that you might, if you're a bit of a monster, plausibly swindle someone, if they're sufficiently gullible, into a lifetime of tending to it, regardless of what it leaves them absent of -- augments the early sense we had Safranek should be looked down on for the choices he is making for lacking the necessary bonding of being decent to not being too big a fool.

When Safranek agrees to be downsized and finds his own wife backed out, his attention is on her being a traitor, of being self-centred and selfish. But from what we witnessed of him going through the whole process of choosing to enter the downsized life and community, of his process in making this irreversible decision, we don't sympathize with him, as the central characteristic he was conveying was agreeability, of letting himself readily be co-opted by reassuring information from sources that it really is for you to know to heavily draw back from (Didn't they all just agree too much in unison what a great thing downsizing was for them, and didn't this remind you of those fleeced who in order to keep intact their self-image, do the opposite of admitting this fact to themselves? Doesn't everyone who comes back from the mall with loads of parcels in their hands, feel flushed in pleasure and accomplishment, but does this really ensure that malls are where one ought to hang out?). She's the one who, once alone, double-checked to make sure it reflected her desires, and wasn't afraid to act on the choice that arose out of that, even when it would intrude on how an institution has absolutely determined that one must necessarily act once you've agreed to go from person to patient as they process you for emendation. She's not afraid to turn over tables, upset attendants, essentially emerge out onto the street, half-naked, and half-all-one's hair shaved off, for the important point was she knew what she wanted, and all that mattered is that none of what the environment would do in proffering shame or guilt for her backing out in a way obtrusive to the regular flow of the processing process would be enough to forestall her mind from carrying her feet out the friggin' door. She's the one who knew, without doubt, that there were those she was leaving behind she still enjoyed keeping contact with, and who were as important to her as her husband. It'll be up to him, within his new environment, to graduate to the same level of game.

Being downsized means being able to own a mega-mansion for a home, but of course the greater reach for him was not to find himself easy fodder for these sort of ludicrous visions of the ideal life, which always involve having a delineated space around oneself, that is "oneself," that is so enormous it belies a sense that sometime early in life one found oneself catastrophically crunched in within a terribly confined space and never got over it (so life for you is about finding spaces convenient for you to man-spread), but to go up merely a leg or two -- to simply to be away from spaces that have become too full of compromised memories, in their not being physically and specially reminiscent of them, and allowing some modest ability to roam, range, be free of the sense that space is going to affect and downgrade anyone's normal-sized intentions for their domestic space. We don't see much of him living as a sole "dwarf" living within his newly acquired kingdom of Erebor, but, strangely, sequentially rather of him sitting across a modest table, with a less-than-modest serving of wife-replacement, with a horrid replacement of desperate dinner conversation, being pressed upon and by a neighbour's thumping stereo noise. His old home, back in compromised-ville, never seemed beset by the valid complaints arising from your average tenement building, so you wonder at the director's willingness to degrade even this -- the huge home and the 1.5 acres of neighbours nowhere around, guaranteed him in going small. For the director does degrade more, much more than this: it turns out Safranek isn't qualified for being a physiotherapist here, owing to the "smallsville" he choose being out of state and requiring differing qualifications than the one's he got, and so is existing by handling phone calls all day at a cubicle, downgraded in occupation, and more drastically couped.

Here, though, begins in the film a recouping of the worthiness of his decency. It is for him, speaks for him, that he accepts his neighbour's invitation to actually consider joining his parties -- to see them as an opportunity -- rather than only complain about them and see them as an affliction, yes, but more so the fact that he is distinguished from the rest of the guests in that he has a natural inclination to be considerate and to pay respect for the offering of hosts -- he brings as an offering the giant flower he'd newly acquired and which his host had expressed a genuine interest in. His momentum here is to take chances, it leads him to join a party, and also to partake in drugs offered by a sweet young thing who takes a fancy to him, but it mostly is his decency, his interest in other people, which ends up changing everything for him, that leads to the opened up world of possibilities that were supposed to be his in just deciding to go downsized but proved, not so. The drug he takes is intense, it leads him to passing out and staying overnight, and as a result he encounters the morning cleaning crew -- one of whom is wearing a prosthetic that works poorly, and who is evidently in considerable pain. He surprises his host by politely interrupting his conversation with him and sprinting quickly upstairs to inquire of her, to genuinely offer her whatever help he can offer, and she takes him up on his offer. Through this course, he essentially takes up one of the few options available in the real world where if one is white and downsized, could possibly take to redeem oneself so that you could for example serve as much the possible subject article for the New Yorker as could the stories of a notable surgeon. Basically, he goes "third world": he essentially finds himself serving a slum, third world society, full of denigrated, terribly poor people, of various ethnic backgrounds, who, so deprived of anyone of education being interested in their concerns, is a miracle to them, in that he is the best doctor of any ailment they'll ever find. What he ends up offering them can't, in a sense, be downgraded by any imaginable educated liberal observing him, because he's tending to people they recognize as inherently virtuous and heroic in capacity, and as spiritually pure. It's not ever overtly acknowledged in the plot, but we feel even if we don't notice that in going downsized he's now chased down and pulled side to side with the surgeon friend he encountered at the beginning. Once a person who dreamed of being a surgeon but was forced to become a therapist, once someone further downgraded to call-centre duty, but through fate and goodness and lack of wiliness now being the first white person drawn to a third world no one had yet "discovered," and the first to attend to the many, many sick as doctor, surgeon -- whatever required -- there: yep, that would do it.

He ends up visiting Norway where the doctors who originated the downsizing technology have created their own community, amongst other Norwegians eager to embrace the new vision. It turns out that these same scientists who had put so much work into a feasible solution to the overpopulation problem, can only come up with a problematic one to address the irreversible catastrophic future of the Earth's breathing atmosphere: to meet the immanent end of human life, they've constructed an under-earth lair sufficient to house themselves and their descendants for the two centuries required for the atmosphere to eventually staabilize itself, but for no one other: as happened hundreds of thousands of years ago to our species, two hundred of them will have to do to repopulate the rest of the planet. His friends along on the trip decide that these people are cultists, are surely filled with same hate and destructive impulses as everybody else, and so therefore, whatever their pretensions and outward declarations, due eventually for their own doomed fate, but the movie is not with them, for they are too persuasive as legitimate "Scandinavians," the actually better people we've all been reading about who keep forging ahead in progressive accomplishments and the level of uncompromised, absent-dark-side love motivating their activity (something of a knock against them, admittedly, is in their ability to accord the elimination of most of the human population as no big deal really, just something that occurs every couple hundred thousand years, and so just something to be taken in stride -- instinctive and, actually, shockingly barbaric elision of concern under cover of evolved understanding). Safranek decides to go along with them, and this decision seems brave and a certain high degree of right. It's brave, because it would mean leaving people behind he cares a lot about and who fit him like a glove, for being amongst people who simply outclass him. Like Bilbo into Rivendale, despite his guests' evident appreciation of him, and how much he could learn from them, the evidence would prove that he's not constitutionally as evolved as them, that he's a corruption of them, even as it would pain them, or be impossible of them, to conceive him such: none of them wouldn't fail to be revolted by the crass sales techniques that he was hunky-dory okay with, none of them wouldn't be appalled at what was presented in American culture as an ideal life -- suburban McDonaldlandsville --that downsizing would provide one with, that he found sufficiently enticing. The only way they would downscale at all is if it could mean being amongst butterflies in a special lake valley, amongst a culture of the educated and civil -- that is, by knowing they could achieve what they got. Half-way down the passage he turns away from this commendable decision for an even better one, however. Behind him is a woman and friends and a life he genuinely loved, and to a certain extent neutral logic as well as the allure of feeling bidden by fate, had been carrying him for a moment. So as commendably readily as his wife did, but even better for being less out of a sense of wariness of what lay ahead, less out of fear that one would find out one hadn't actually chosen your fate but just gone along to be agreeable, but rather out of calm, sober, and highly acute reflection, he too backed away from an irreversible decision that would count you separate from past-known communities for life. A great feat, and not really "a backing up," a stepping back, a "downsizing" at all. For the life available to him this way: only one of proven, satisfying offerings that his fully eventuated and enriched self -- his best possible, developed self -- could manageably feast on. Decent, brave; mature and informed. There are limits to what your origins will allow for you. When you've pressed up against them, it's time to stop and explore the rest of your life through where you currently are. Past this point, you get stressed, and your system gets derailed. A commendably evolved fish, once only water and now more ranging but still only half adapted to the amphibious, struggling to make it all of the time on land. Not you, but maybe your progeny, are due for that next step in evolution, is the best decision. Yours is to enjoy the expanded enjoyment you've brought within range. That'll be your sole compass, if you are wise.

Yes, the Norwegian way as it is portrayed here is a drop off from the ideal in that it plays out a bit Hygge, a commercialized version of something real, and thus something ostensibly capable of being fundamentally adrift from it. But their river-valley, lake-side life is not meant to be read as simply a different version of an intrinsically commercial vision, normally realized as some crass Disneyland but that needn't be confined to the overtly crass. It's real enough, so, good, so, more or less ideal. But there is maybe something in their being portrayed a bit too commercially, as a bit people bearing a hint of the false by way of their remorseless perfection, that does draw one to examine the portrayal of the ideal person -- as we now, in common account, accept them -- they adeptly showcase for us. The ideal human is one who is comfortable with scientific knowledge -- indeed, has a dumbfounding overall knowledge of it -- but who is also in love with how nature seems to us in terms of affect, so also nature removed of data and reduction, nature that would summon only poetry to examine, reflect, explore and revere it. My inclination was to back away from them too, and to reflect on how shortchanged this vision of the perfectly formed human being is. For one, it's elitist: once one begins to be capable of seeing a human and seeing our all our components at work, all the miraculous intricacies of its biology and biochemistry we're built from and which sustain us, the only conscious experience that would seem equal to it, that wouldn't be a gross betrayal of it, is the conscious mind of a genius, a mind enjambed with tremendous, exciting, potential range and explosive reaches. You simply can't go from knowing the astonishing science that goes into creating a human life form and witness an ordinary person behaving ordinarily, drinking a beer, eating a cheeseburger, delighting in a boring kid's boring birthday party, hearing a crass person talking crass talk and not finding it crass, without thinking, "all this, TO THAT END??!!" (The exemption being again with certain select underprivileged peoples -- one would never look at anything oppression-resister, doubly-brave political refugee Ngoc Lan Tran does and think the same thing.) You recoup the discordant, cognitive-dissonant "fact" of unacceptable but unmistakeable pure evidence by having to turn sociobiological and discount human conscious experience entirely, and think of humans as "species" -- attending to what an ant "thinks" might make the point of all nature's genius in making them seem censure-worthy, ill-determined, as well, but we don't attend to this but only as components all behaving in the same species-designed and evolutionarily-proven way -- eating, socializing, mating, functioning, cooperating -- which seems means to keep the science in bringing them to fruition redeemed by end result. As these Norwegians were contemplating, first, the end of humans through overpopulation, and then the end of humans through greenhouse gas emission, I took liberty to think of a different kind of fantastic end, based out of our current dilemmas/problems as I see them: the end of the requisite necessity of, not just being scientifically literate, but of all scientific knowledge. Maybe within their Hygge community, with its absence of anything that overtly shows advanced technology, one can find the inspiration, but if the evolved community, burrowed under the earth, waiting for everyone else to die, successfully pursued further self-evolution, it might be to build a world well enough, constitute people constitutionally healthy enough, that the world could try a fresh start without having their phenomenological experience of the world defaced as somehow inferior to the "fundamental," "instrinsic," scientific understanding of it. The world and themselves would be built well enough to do without it, so no science. All they would know is poetry. The refinements, what they would "study," are what a poet studies, in articulating experience. This person from the future, if able to astral-travel back in time, could meet up with Safranek even outside of settings where the New Yorker crowd would deem him finally redeemed as a respect-worthy person, back to when he was simply doing basic therapy work for people whose tastes are also basic, but doing his work gentlemanly and lovingly, and see something to embrace and explore -- it would be easier to see the majesty their descendants were still able to accord sunsets and sunrises, in him doing only that. (The Norwegians who might as well be capable of that, but who add the science, would not be unfairly leveraged if a comparison was made between them for having portioned out a good portion of life in seeing the cold data and biological algorithms underlying life, but rather, probably discounted for it.) The beauty, the purer inspiration, in the ordinary that knows naught other.

Further pointing along these lines is how the movie shows the "techne" of hospitalization. The people who downsize are mostly shown, in the process of their being downsized to four inches, being enacted upon by a very professional apparatus -- the technicians are shown, not as those verbally referenced in the film in a scathing way, as those likely to forget to take out all the dental fillings and so as those who inadvertently blow up someone's head as the subject's body downsizes but the metallic filings don't, but as magnificently routinely applying exactly the treatment they individually are responsible for. We attend so long to the routine, though, and we can't help but think that there is something still wrong about it, despite it being undeniably professional -- perfectly formed, fabulously-in-shape bodies look somewhat unscathed by the explorations and stark reductions to bare nudity, but only in a people-reduced-to-the-aweing-power-of-their-colourful shells kind of way, only by way of incidental fact. We know it's not just that downsizing is mostly being applied to people without money, for we can't deny that what they each undergo is about consistent with what anyone of any means incurs at any hospital today, even the best. There's something wrong with that fact that our current reach as to the best possible vision of healthcare seems to stop there. Our current vision of perfect medicine is an obstacle and an antagonist to a better one. For the people they are while being operated on are not the same persons they can possibly achieve, once on their own again. The man or woman being lifted and prodded, while lying placid on a metallic slab, in attire stipulated by someone else for efficiency and for the deliberate reduction of the presumed intrusive aspect one's individuality might carry, has us wonder, does this in fact have to be, thus? Why wouldn't the goal of medicine not just be to go advanced technology, but to reduce the sense of doctoring and patienting. I thought this while watching this engrossing, lengthy scene, and was reminded of it when Safranek attends to the people living in the slum. He's not dressed different, before, after, in-between. He may not even understand himself as operating as a professional while ostensibly "objectively" performing so, but perhaps more as just using his knowledge and best judgment to assist someone's pain. The setting -- anywhere convenient, really. The exchange might even be mutual, or cooperative, not just by two people deciding on how much dosage, as occurs in the movie, but a matter of someone assisting, and in helping them, receiving back a greater ability of the person being attended to to in some way administer, to give, straight back to them. Some psychologists tend to encourage parental transference in their patients in order to heal them -- play the part of the father to become a first encounter with a good one, for instance. But amongst equals, amongst emotionally equally developed equals, why the absolute requirement for status and temporary submergence of status. Why any superimposition of a category -- doctor or patient -- we would other times forgo? If a downsize operation, why not fealty and love and discriminated attendance for every enaction, no less than any musician would their instrument's every plucked string? If it's because one's in the realm of techne and the other of art -- so apples and oranges -- it becomes, again, shouldn't we press ourselves to consider, why not all art?

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