Conversations about "Downsizing," at the NewYorker Movie Facebook Club
Also, a word on Downsizing, in which Alexander Payne deploys his formidable art of the salient detail for a sprawling story that's three films in one (a mediocre one, a terrific one, and a terrible one), and in which his clever vision and bold idea are smothered in homilies; it's well worth seeing, because what's good is memorable, but for much of the time, it isn't much of an experience—it remains a blueprint.
Payne engages effervescently in the art of world-building, but then yields to a self-satisfied moralism.
Anthony Salvatore I love Alexander Payne, Downsizing did not disappoint. I don’t care what people say.
Patrick McEvoy-Halston Anu Partanen, a Finnish author, moved to New York and was immediately pleased by America's diversity, lacking in all-white Finland. That ends up being about the only kind thing she says about the place, however, as Finland's environmentally conscious populace, readily imagined as Payne imagines these Norwegians, really are simply better (she even challenges the idea that America's got an edge in nurturing entrepreneurialism, making the solid point that in Finland the safety net is secure enough that you never have to cling to job or family for security and therefore aren't as inclined to placate and play safe). They put themselves above working class "trash" (everyone in their community gives the sense of being highly educated and a specialist of some technology, even as hidden by their folkish outward tastes) -- though never of course political refugees, of any kind, whom they seek out and salute -- and this is a nasty thing. But it's important that the voice in the film that refutes them, refutes their purity and likens them to all humanity in being pretty fundamentally flawed -- specifically, violent -- shouldn't seem to us more likely to be wise unless we are naturally inclined to locate wisdom in characters who admit they're compromised and can at times be severely sketchy. Maybe however that is Payne's thing ("Election" comes to mind too, as some have seen the film as a takedown of Hillary Clinton-types, and revenge against them too). As I remember it, that's very Goethe.
Patrick McEvoy-Halston What I mean by this is that the Norwegians in this film are portrayed as people sort of abstract to the working class people they don't seem to mind all that much if a natural scientific phenomena means most of them slide off the planet. This is the populist view of the educated, liberal professional class. The criticism is apt; really has to be noted. Our problem is that almost no one who seems to notice it really convinces as actually being better than they are. It's like their ego is allowed some avenues of absolute sanity -- where they see things more clearly than any other (the rightwing can do this too at times: read their sometimes more accurate views of anthropology, which, as Steven Pinker has noted, is still full of romanticized portrayals) -- but outside these "zones" are people embedded in the madness that people are flawed and sinful, that misery will never be eradicated out of the world, and that everyone who believes different is a menace to the earth. The people who note the meanness in today's environmentalists don't do sufficient due to their righteous optimism and warmth, and are themselves the rearguard, the conservatives that emerge at times hoping to shut everything down.