A not-so-young couple decides to allow scientists to shrink their bodies to a height of 5 inches.
The main intrigue factor as I watched Downsizing was the why behind the decision of Paul Safranek (played by Matt Damon) to go tiny. Why? Why would you give up your normal volume of flesh for an alternate life as a miniature human? Why would you risk death (or any other possible physical malfunctions or abnormalities) to undergo an irreversible medical procedure that has only been tested in the short term? And be reduced to a size in which you can be chased to death by a cockroach?
What benefits could possibly outweigh this immense and almost ridiculous cost?
Funnily enough, the benefits of the procedure are most memorably portrayed in a marketing campaign within the film. And that helps to explain the why.
In the movie, people interested in being downsized are wooed by various “communities of the small”. One of them is Leisure Land.
Eerily portrayed as a picture-perfect upscale community, Leisure Land is presented in an auditorium by a resident and marketer played by Neil Patrick Harris. He boasts of his luxurious dollhouse-sized home, in a tone reminiscent of Barney Stinson (a pompous, confidently delusional character Harris plays on the series How I Met Your Mother, and who is convincing only to gullible and naive young ladies). The audience of potential residents is enraptured by the idea of shrinking themselves so that their buying power can instantly multiply, putting a life of luxury easily within their reach.
Later on, talking to a sales agent, the couple Paul and Audrey learn that they can live comfortably on what they already have. They no longer have to live in Paul’s childhood home or work hard like decent human beings. Recalling that they’ve wanted a change for so long, they say yes to this hope of change, and to what they think is a happily ever after defined by an abundance of resources. They are informed of the physical risks but it’s astonishing how they seem not to consider any other implications on society, family, happiness.
Anyway. Watching Paul go through the physical preparations for downsizing further confirms that one wouldn’t do it if given the choice. I mean I certainly wouldn’t.
Or would I?
We often think we are immune to falling prey to marketing schemes and tempting offers that go against our value system (or what we think is our value system). It’s this question of choice and the power of marketing that made me think the most. (And which I thought could have been a more promising exploration — as a social satire on consumer gullibility rather than an environmental warning.)
Marketing campaigns are successful because by principle they are designed to appeal to our deepest needs and desires—good or bad.
The satirical and tragically successful marketing campaign of LeisureLand is a creepy yet enlightening portrayal of marketing that lures us according to our wants and thus reveals the extent of our own smallness.
And in this case the human tragedy is even more apparent: our big decisions in life are often financially driven. Such that the ability to afford “everything we’ve ever wanted” or are deprived by, is enough to give up one’s life-sized body for.