Release: Friday, July 10, 2015
Written by: Àlex and David Pastor
Directed by: Tarsem Singh
A talented cast can’t save Self/less from selfishly wasting its potential on a narrative utterly disinterested in entertaining.
Ben Kingsley is Damian Hale, a billionaire with an atrocious accent slowly succumbing to cancer. He knows of a super-duper top-secret experiment where people (presumably only those within his tax bracket) can transfer their consciousnesses into a younger body, a body that’s been harvested in a lab controlled by an organization so damn secretive we never get to know its name. What we do know is it’s headed by Mr. Albright (Matthew Goode), a businessman whose stylish facade can’t quite conceal his dubious intentions. The reincarnation-like process is called ‘shedding,’ and for some reason Kingsley sheds into Ryan Reynolds.
You read me right.
Kingsley says to hell with wrinkles, then takes over Reynolds’ body! Armed with youthful looks, a more muscular physique and the alias Edward, “younger Damian” can now do what his previous career-oriented self never allowed him to, which at first amounts to little more than having sex with a different woman every night. Good call. Nothing screams you’re making up for lost time more than having a string of one-night stands with drunk strangers.
He eventually moves past this phase when his consciousness realizes the body he’s now occupying may be something more than the ‘vessel’ it has been marketed to him as. Even though it has “that new body smell,” Edward/younger Damian has been instructed to take one red pill every day to prevent nasty hallucinations from taking over — visions of a life perhaps experienced by the last person trapped in this skin. He’s warned the visions will only increase in severity the longer he abstains from the pills.
Self/less, if it’s not clear already, is one bizarre trip into the psyche. This is Jekyll and Hyde Meet Dubious Medical Ethics, the science behind which we’re clearly not meant to understand. Reynolds is handed the unenviable task of affecting two different personalities sharing the same physical frame. He is more convincing eliciting Kingsley’s guilt of having undergone the procedure than he is selling us on the fact his other consciousness, someone named Mark, is starting to intrude as a result of Edward/younger Damian not taking his pills.
Still with me? Fantastic. If not join the club; there’s plenty of room for new members. (If we’re being totally honest here, I’m barely making sense to myself in an effort to avoid going into spoilers.)
Any ambition the filmmakers had of giving us something worth debating after the fact is stifled by a navel-gazing narrative, one that doesn’t do itself any favors by focusing upon a character that creates far more questions than it answers. Is all of this aimless wandering supposed to be character building? Why the obvious middle finger to Ben Kingsley? Big picture: does Self/less have something to say about medical experimentation — stem cell research, perhaps? Is this about cherishing one’s youth, the sanctity of human life, or simply how good it must feel waking up and knowing you are Ryan Reynolds?
Nothing is ever made clear, except maybe the fact that nothing is going to be made clear. Screenwriting brothers David and Àlex Pastor become obsessed with overcomplicating this Edward/young Damian/Mark dude than giving him a truly compelling direction to head in. A direction other than going back to cap the guy responsible for all of this mess. (But wait, wasn’t Edamianmark the one who wanted this done so he could . . . oh, whatever. I give up.) And it’s quite frustrating, given yet another good turn from Reynolds. As much as he tries to convey two different people he’s no match for a boring screenplay and convoluted storytelling.
The further I drifted from Self/less‘s pivotal scene a few minutes in, the less its rumination on mortality seemed to matter and the more the film’s tagline instead became relevant. Man may have created immortality, but Singh created a pretty bad movie.
Recommendation: A science fiction film where logic and entertainment disappear and are replaced by silly science and endlessly confusing exposition. In a genre where logic is typically given a pretty long leash, Self/less stretches it pretty far. If you enjoy being left out of the loop fairly early in a movie, and then struggling for the rest of the time to find a way back in, then I have the perfect movie for you.
Running Time: 116 mins.
Quoted: “I’m the only one standing between you and oblivion.”
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