One of the things that I said I’d like to do with the new C’est Non Un Blog is to try to highlight various forms of media that have made a big impression on me, things that maybe you haven’t heard of yet or things that turned out to be way better than first appearances might have led you to believe, things I call Diamonds in the Rough. I feel like Upside Down (2013) is the perfect guinea pig to get this semi-regular column started, as it’s a stunningly gorgeous sci-fi love story that cost 60 million dollars to make and yet it only made $29 grand in its opening weekend and had a whopping $100,000 domestic haul overall. Despite its 43/100 metascore and 28% (ouch) on the Rotten Tomatoes meter I actually think that there’s a lot to like about this movie. Is it perfect? No. (I’ll get to that later.) But there’s enough that goes really right with the movie that I think you would find it a lot more interesting than your average rental.
Before it came out I vaguely remember seeing one trailer for Upside Down and then I promptly never heard anything about it again until I picked it up from Netflix. No one else seemed to have heard anything about it either, as its box office take clearly reflects. I don’t get why more people didn’t go see it though. The other big release of that weekend was The Incredible Burt Wonderstone (ugh). Maybe it had too much in common with the number one movie that weekend, Oz the Great and Powerful? I dunno. But before I get too ahead of myself talking about the movie, take a second to watch the trailer:
Without knowing anything else about it, you’d watch this movie, right? It looks fucking awesome. The story is a pretty basic Romeo & Juliet-esque, boy meets girl but society says they can’t be together narrative with a pretty cool premise: in this universe there are two Earths instead of one, both orbiting each other in perfect symmetry so that the gravity of one balances out the other and vice versa. Materials can pass from one world to the other, but if something from one Earth is stuck on the other Earth for too long the molecules become unstable and it starts to burn up. The upper world has become rich and powerful exploiting the oil reserves on the lower world and as part of their deal both worlds have agreed in an Orwellian fashion that citizens are expressly forbidden from communicating with their peers on the other world.
After this big concept is set up for us during the film’s prologue, we meet Jim Sturgess’s Adam, a poor orphan from the lower Earth who accidentally meets Kirsten Dunst’s Eden, a rich girl from the upper Earth. They quickly hit it off and start to meet with each other regularly, slowly fall in love with each other, that is until Big Brother discovers what they are doing and tears them apart. Not knowing what it is that became of Eden, an obsessed Adam becomes a chemist, trying to use pollen from bees that can fly from one Earth to the other to create some sort of formula that will allow him to change his inner gravity so he can walk around on either Earth without needing weights to hold him down. 10 years after they were separated he sees Eden on the TV and goes about a plan to infiltrate the one building that connects to two worlds so he can cross the plane that divides them and find Eden again.
Like I said, the plot is pretty basic, but the visuals are simply stunning. Not only does the movie make you believe that two Earths could exist little more than a stones throw away from each other, but it looks so fantastic that you quickly want to drop everything and go visit this amazing place with every fiber of your being. The cinematography is jaw-droppingly gorgeous. Argentinian director Juan Solanas started his career as a photographer and it shows with each exquisite composition, each suitable for being framed in a museum. Any scene that features something upside down in the frame is a joy to behold. I highly recommend if you have a choice you watch this film in HD or on Blu-ray. I watched it on DVD and there were definitely times where the image got muddy and I wished things would tighten up so I could see each and every detail that was painstakingly put on screen.
As I mentioned above, the movie isn’t perfect. It does have some glaring issues, mainly the ending. Without getting too spoiler-y, just as things start to get really dramatic and juicy, the story ends suddenly, giving us our happy ending without a whole lot of resolution as to how that actually came to be. In this universe the absolutely worst thing you can do is cavort with people from the other side, and yet somehow Adam and Eden’s love for each other manages to change everything and completely restructure how society works. It’s never really explained how that happened and we get some sort of sequel-bait cop-out explanation that “that’s a whole other story for another day”, but I feel like they could have easily added 10-15 minutes to the film to give some sort of explanation for how the revolution to coexist with the other world realistically came into being. The structure for this is already there, they just never follow through on it. The story in general is pretty basic in its complexity, leaving the heavy lifting to its big ideas, and you really have to watch the film for its total experience and not for the plot, much like how you would in an action or horror movie, and I think that’s a lot of the reason why it has gotten such poor scores from reviewers. If you want to punch holes in the film you definitely can, but I think if you do you’re kind of missing out on what makes the film so much fun. Upside Down is more like a fairy tale than anything else, and you’re going to maximize your enjoyment of the film if you just let it take you along for the ride.
So as I said, Upside Down isn’t a perfect film, but if you want to see a fun, visually enchanting film that will spark your imagination and give you something to think about long after the film ends, you could do a lot worse than this.