It’s not often a film comes along that is so original, so visually stunning, it’s like seeing film for the first time. Buenos Aires born Juan Solanas is a writer/director with only one short and one little-known feature under his belt, so it’s more impressive knowing exactly what he has pulled off with his new film "Upside Down" - even when some of it doesn’t come together quite like you might have hoped.
The film is a sort of fairy-tale about two planets in a solar system far away that exist practically one on top of the other. Interestingly, despite being so close they can almost touch, their gravitational pulls don’t co-exist. Because of this separation, the two worlds exist as exclusives with the "Down Below" planet being one without electricity and in poverty and the planet "Up Top" being more wealthy as well as exploitive of the world below. (The political and social allegories are tangible and fascinating.)
With this established, we meet Adam (Jim Sturgess), an orphan whose only living relative is his Aunt Becky whom he is allowed to visit. At her home, he finds himself often wandering through the forests and mountains of the Down Below, mostly looking for the elusive Pink Bees that can be used to make a special honey that can make objects float. Why? Because the bees come from both worlds. So on his journeys he ends up meeting Eden (Kirsten Dunst), a young girl searching for her missing dog. But Eden is from the Up Top world and the two meet on the tips of two mountains, upside down, and begin a friendship.
Years later, the two have continued their friendship and have even found a way to combine their dual gravities to enjoy zero gravity which allows them to actually be in the same gravitational space at the same time. But it is forbidden for people from the two worlds to intermingle and soon enough the two are violently separated and Eden suffers an accident and is thought to be dead.
Ten years later, Adam is busy using the Pink Bee pollen to create a beauty cream - hoping that will solve his financial issues and make a name for himself. But when he happens to catch sight of Eden on a TV reality show as a spokesperson for TransWorld - a company that bridges the gap between the Up Top and Down Below - he decides to get a job there so he can find her and they can be together again.
That said, his plan is not without its complications, not the most of which is Eden’s amnesia which has made her forget who he is. Combine that with the gravitational issues and the two have a long road before they can even dream of being together. And how that occurs is what is so beguiling and unique.
"Upside Down’s" production design is the most spellbinding thing about this film. With design by Alex McDowell ("Minority Report"), visual effects supervised by Francois Dumoulin ("Demonlover"), and cinematography by Pierre Gill ("Outlander"), this is one of the most visually arresting films in years. "Cloud Atlas" came close, but there is something so special about this piece that it’s worth your time just to marvel at how they put it all together.
Characters have to talk in different gravities (upside down) and the rules of gravity produce some amazing sequences. There’s a ballroom café that exists for both the Up Top and Down Below where Kirsten Dunst dances a tango while dancers from Down Below are dancing upside down above them. There’s a love scene that occurs between the mountains that is in zero gravity and is beautiful to witness. There’s even a stunner where Adam has concocted a way to live briefly in the Up Top, but has to quickly escape and fall "up" to the Down Below. It’s pretty awesome.
In fact, the entire world and planet itself had to be created from scratch, so every set, every vista, every landscape is gorgeous and original. Sure, they all talk like people from Earth and it is clear they’ve evolved similarly to us, but in that there is a logic as well.
And speaking of logic, Solanas does an incredible job of not breaking his own rules. This is a complicated world where drinking a martini that is upside down isn’t just cool looking, it makes sense. Special care was taken to make sure it was all rational. Even when I thought they might be cheating, when I thought about it, I realized they weren’t. It had all been explained and was all within the framework of their own device.
By the film’s end, there is a moment where some big issues are resolved that end up being anti-climactic. Mostly it’s because you have to think about it a little too hard, and because our lead character isn’t the one who figures out the solution to the problem. Because of this, the end isn’t as emotionally satisfying as it could have been. At the same time, upon reflection, I understood it more and it worked well with the overall theme stated at the outset of the movie. I can appreciate that.
Dunst and Sturgess are terrific here and their chemistry makes you want to fight for them to be together. That is key. Sturgess is a charmer and I’m impressed with his choice of films. Between "Heartless," "Across the Universe," "Cloud Atlas," "One Day," and now "Upside Down" he always goes for the offbeat. Dunst brings an ease to her role that allows us to care for her in ways other actresses might not have been able to do. My only quibble is that the film could have been as epic and emotional as "Titanic." It never reaches that pinnacle, but there is so much to enjoy, so much that will make your jaw drop in awe that is so worth your time to check out.