by tt stern-enzi
Jim Sturgess is caught between the dreamy heights of the heavens and the irresistible force of the earthbound, but somehow he’s able to hover, seemingly weightless and breathlessly afloat. The visual equivalent of some of the spectacular set designs captured in his latest film, Upside Down, which drifted into multiplexes in the Midwest, this past weekend on a whisper and a sigh. The film, from Argentinian writer-director Juan Solanas (the multi-hyphenate behind the 2003 short The Man Without a Head, a title I simply must track down now), feels like a technical and logistical stunt, combining the maze-like landscape of Inception’s dream worlds that fold over, origami-style, onto themselves with the reflective longing of the speculative sci-fi indie Another Earth.
Upside Down embraces the twin planet set-up of that film, but creates a class structure complete with one world as the upper society, which secures and exploits resources from the lower world, thus enforcing a lower-working class dynamic that is all to familiar. There’s a bit of science – with opposite gravitational pulls and matter & anti-matter that can travel in short exchanges between the two worlds before burning up – thrown into the mix, but what we’ve got here is your basic two state situation that is separate and definitely not equal.
As an orphan on the lower world, young Adam climbs the highest nearby mountain, the one that extends a finger towards the heavenly upper world and it is there that he spies young Eden and they form a forbidden bond that grows (as they do into Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst, respectively) into love. An inevitable tragedy separates the lovers – sending Adam off into an even lonelier existence due to his assumption that Eden has plummeted to her death – but, of course, that is not the case. The story picks up years later with Adam re-discovering Eden, quite by chance, and endeavoring to do everything in his power to draw the two worlds close enough to allow them to re-unite.
The physical renderings of the twin worlds, one atop the other are a marvel to behold, ingenious in a way the speaks to the accomplished achievement realized on a less than blockbuster budget. It is truly reminiscent of Ariandne’s dreamscape in Inception, although used throughout the story without losing any of its appeal or novelty. Where the film disappoint is in its largely flat narrative and thematic conception. For all of its supposed grounding in social-class dynamics, there’s not an ounce of complexity in its dramatic interplay. Another Earth, from the pen of co-star Brit Marling, thoughtfully probed questions of guilt and the possibility of second chances that might exist in the earthly reflection hovering in the sky. Few science fiction tales for the screen have embraced such moving exploration of the path to redemption.
Upside Down settles for love, which should be enough, but the love affair here lacks epic passion. Solanas is a bit more interested in special effects and action sequences and in those terms, he’s definitely crafted a calling card to convince studio heads that he’s next in line for an action franchise installment.
The letdown, the far from upside in this downer, impacts Sturgess first and foremost because, as I stated at the start, he’s something of a curious x-factor, a genuinely romantic lead, ethereal and effortless, when he’s wooing whoever stands opposite him. Whether Anne Hathaway (One Day), Kate Bosworth (21), Evan Rachel Wood (Across the Universe), or Dunst here, he’s the epitome of the eternally eager young lover driven by passion rather than lust deep in his loins. And once again, he is stranded in limbo, where he will likely remain unless he can catch the attention of Terrence Malick or Wong Kar-Wai, two of the great romantic dreamers working on the other side of the camera.