Upside Down (2012)


Canada/France. 2012.


Director/Screenplay – Juan Solanas, Adaptation/Dialogue – Santiago Amigorena, Pierre Magny & Juan Solanas, Photography – Pierre Gill, Music – Benoit Charest, Visual Effects Supervisor – Arnaud Chelet, Visual Effects – Buf (Supervisors – Xavier Allard & Geoffrey Niquet), Hatch, La Maison, Onyx Films & Vision Globale, Special Effects Supervisor – Louis Craig, Makeup Effects Supervisor – Adien Morot, Production Design – Alex McDowell. Production Company – Upside Down Films/Les Films Upsidedown Inc/Onyx Films/Studio 37/Kinologic Films (UD)/Jouror Productions/France 2 Cinema/Canal +/Cine +/France Television/Transfilm Intl/The Movie Network/Movie Central


Jim Sturgess (Adam Kirk), Kirsten Dunst (Eden Moore), Timothy Spall (Bob Boruchowicz), Blu Mankuma (Albert), Nicholas Rose (Pablo), James Kidnie (William Lagavulin), Vlasta Vrana (Mr Hunt), Kate Trotter (Aunt Becky), Elliott Larson (Adam 12 Years Old), Maurane Arcand (Eden 10 Years Old), Holly O’Brien (Paula)


Two worlds live in close proximity, almost touching the other, although gravity in either is reversed in the opposite direction. Contact between the two is forbidden. Twelve year-old Adam Kirk ventures up into the mountains near his aunt’s home and meets and befriends Eden Moore, a girl his own age who has climbed a peak on the opposite world. The two scale up/down a rope to meet. They maintain a friendship for several years until they are discovered by the authorities. As an adult, Adam is trying to perfect an anti-aging cream that uses pollen from the bees from up above to lift wrinkles when he sees the adult Eden on a television show broadcast from up top. He takes a job with the Transworld Corporation, offering to sell his cream to them. He befriends Bob Boruchowicz, a worker from up above. Bob sneaks Adam into the office floors of the above world where he weights himself down so as to be able to walk unnoticed. He goes to meet Eden only to discover that she suffers from amnesia and cannot remember him. During further ventures up top, he woos her, although does not let her know that he is from down below. However, his continued forbidden excursions come to the attention of the authorities.

In the last couple of years, the science-fiction film has been discovered by the indie film (sort of). A niche that is usually regarded as concerning itself with edgy personal works, slice of life dramas or off-the-beaten track comedies has been venturing into genre material with the high-profile likes of Another Earth (2011), Melancholia (2011) and Mars et Avril (2012). Upside Down can be another that joins these. All of these films have one thing in common – while they come from an arts background and venture into science-fiction, they feature some really bad science and shonky premises – both Another Earth and Melancholia with their notions of mysterious planetary bodies in counter-earth orbits that spontaneously decide to start moving, the downright nonsensical Mars et Avril with its taking of the notion of the Music of the Spheres literally.

Upside Down is the frustration of a film that comes with a science-fiction premise that is absurd – two planets live in conjunction almost touching where people on either world are oriented either up or down depending on the influence of their native gravity – that also ends up being a surprisingly well made and imaginative film. It is worth examining what gravity is and how this relates to its depiction in Upside Down. Gravity is something that is created by an astral body (like a planet or a moon, even a sun) that causes objects to be drawn down towards it – the greater the mass a body has, the more gravity there is hence why people appear much lighter when walking on The Moon, which has smaller mass than the Earth. There is no absolute up or down in gravity – whether you stand at the North or the South Pole of the Earth, for instance, down is always the ground you are standing on and up is always the sky, facing away from the gravity source.

There are vast problems with the application of this in Upside Down. The film seems to assume that every person and even molecule on each world has some magic property of gravity that orients them in a particular direction. In scientific reality, there is a very limited sense in which this would be the case. If The Moon and Earth were brought closer together then two people standing on either world in the directions closest to the other would each be facing in the opposite direction. HOWEVER, if one person travelled from one world to the other, then all that would happen is that they would rotate to face down in the direction of the body of gravity, you wouldn’t get them floating around upside down on the ceiling or having to weigh themselves down as you do here. The other big issue in the film is that the two worlds are so close together they are almost touching – people being able to pass things to another person on the other world; or buildings, rooms and elevators that have been built between worlds. The problem with this is that planets rotate rather than exist in a single stationary spot. That’s how we have tides that come and go, weather patterns and changing seasons. Moreover, the amount of gravity and pull exerted by a world is massive. If two worlds existed in such close proximity, the combined gravity would have torn either planet apart into a vast asteroid belt well before either had even evolved life. You kind of wish that rather than spending what looks like a good deal of money designing its world, the film had spent a few dollars on hiring someone who could have pointed out matters of scientific realism.

You brain hurts trying to make logical sense of the world and you have to regard Upside Down less as a science-fiction film and more as a fantasy film. On the other hand, you are constantly being amazed at Juan Solanas’s visuals. Extraordinary images like vistas of city streets where other entire cities hang upside down in the sky in the parallel world; cocktails where the glass is turned upside down and filled with reverse liquid that tries to escape upwards; ballrooms where parties are seen dancing on both the floor and the ceiling; an office building where there are rows and rows of cubicles filled with people on both the floor and ceiling and where objects are passed back and forth between floors; an interview where Jim Sturgess must sit in an elevator chair that rises up from the floor so that he can sit upside down at near-ceiling height to be questioned by boss James Kidnie at his desk; the extraordinary image of Jim Sturgess diving into the water Up Top and kicking off his weights to explode out of the water and into the sky, flying through it to land into the waters of Down Below.

It is a superbly designed world and with some fantastic effects. Like all good science-fiction, even if it is bad science, the film takes a premise and has fun exploring the logical parameters of the world, how people there live and the contortions and logical complications that might ensue. The story itself is a fairly standard one of forbidden romance, which fails to particularly set anything alight, while the film goes out on a frustratingly abrupt and out-of-the-blue last minute happy ending. Not to mention that the film arbitrarily throws in amnesia as a romantic plot device and then equally arbitrarily writes it out again.

Not long after, the same premise of a topsy-turvy world with two different cultures living with reversed gravity and the forbidden romance that occurs between a boy and a girl of either world was conducted, albeit with slightly more scientific rationale, in the anime Patema Inverted (2013).

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