Immortality is all the rage. Even if you don’t actively think “I’d really not like to die one day” we all do little things to stave off the icy hand of death for one day. Maybe we put a special moisturizer on our faces to avoid the wrinkles. Maybe we dye our hair. Maybe you avoid a certain food because a celebrity said that they avoid it, and they look good, so obviously, that has to be it. The movie Self/Less takes it one step further.
Note: As I delve into this movie I find myself hitting up the age old debate, is it a spoiler or is it part of the plot. Many would argue with me that this is a spoiler, not a part of the plot that’s carefully doled out early on, I’m going with what I want, because it’s my blog. If you want to hide all spoilers, then by all means, start your own blog named after a line of dialogue in the Expendables.
Self/Less is a movie about death, and our fear of dying. It’s about a man named Damian (Ben Kingsly) who is dying of cancer. He mysteriously learns about a project called “shedding” which will allow him to transfer his brain into a genetically engineered younger body for a mere $250 Million. Of course, he doesn’t ask where he gets this card from (that part IS a real spoiler) nor does he think about why this genetically engineered younger body already has a scar on it, so he decides to go for it.
After trying to make things good with his daughter and speeding up the dying process by drinking coffee laced with peanuts (because of his severe peanut allergy) he finds himself now in the body of Ryan Reynolds, and able to do all the cool things he wanted to do while living in New Orleans and not questioning why the guy he met on the basketball court named Anton (Derek Luke in a terrific role) suddenly wants to be his friend.
Then the hallucinations start. He’s given special drugs he has to take to ward them off, and can never miss one, or else... Of course, these wildly specific hallucinations of a young woman (Natalie Martinez) and her daughter all calling him “daddy” near a water tower. He soon discovers that the bodies aren’t genetically engineered but are volunteers who are given a large cash settlement for their families. The drugs essentially kill the personalities and memories of the people who the new bodies inhabit. Damian is in the body of a young military officer. Of course, once he figures this out, can they let him live? (No. The answer is no. If you didn’t know that then you don’t watch movies.)
This wasn’t a terrible movie. I qualify this one as one of those movies that was on a passing joke on the Simpsons, “Free Movie with Air Conditioning.” It was a thriller, largely designed to play off the idea that Damian was inhabiting the body of a man that wasn’t technically dead. Ryan Reynolds plays this off well, but it’s really difficult for him to show anything off until (spoiler) the final scene when he awakens as the man he once was. Then you get the true capabilities of his acting, as even the walk over to the computer screams that this is a different person.
The problem is that after raising this question about the new body that Damain inhabiting. There is some lip service given to the morals of whether or not Damian deserves to live or not, but it’s never really explored. Every time it’s brought up, usually between Madaline and Damian, it’s quickly dismissed under a hail of gunfire or another twist after another twist. But in order for Damian to live, the man who’s body he is inhabiting must essentially “die.” He’s not really dead, mind you, he’s just sort of... lurking, I guess? I don’t demand the most solid explanations of brain switching movies, but I need a little bit more than this new host will be beaten out by the old host because science reasons, take your medicine.
Moral questions aside, there’s also the fact that the stakes are incredibly low in this movie. It’s limited to a family drama with a man who’s past we don’t know too much about taking on a system that he knew very little about to begin with. There’s no real foreshadowing that Damian is any kind of action star, and it could have been played off a lot better as a man who was way out of his depth dealing with a new world around him. The movie was so interested in selling itself as a thriller it didn’t think to emphasize the more interesting parts of the movie: The moral questions or the fish out of water aspect of it, which could have carried a lot more weight as a man who was dying, from an older generation (we see glimpses of this early on in conversations with his daughter, and this is dropped so he can be nice to his new, ready-made daughter) or even the moral implications of death.
But all these get swept under the rug for more shoot-em-up bang bang action sequences.
One thing that this movie does excel at, and does need some focus, is the idea of identity. Damian has to deal with his new identity as not Damian anymore, but of a younger man unable to go to his own home, see his old friends, or even is daughter. Many of the introductory shots are done through mirrors, and the climatic scene involves a mirror quite literally melting in front of someone. I like the way it used all of these things.
Not a bad movie for the summer, it just squanders some really great ideas and moments to get to more action sequences.
Five out of Ten