A Sci-Fi Honey New Release Review by Katie

Self/less (2015)

Tarsem Singh, the imaginative director behind such visually exquisite mindtrips as The Cell (2000) and The Fall (2006) is back behind the camera in 2015 with Self/less: a science fiction body-swapping parable set in modern-day America. From the relationship between our physical and metaphysical selves to the very notion of immortality, Singh has a wealth of ingredients from the story – penned by the Pastor Brothers, the minds behind one of the most inventive sci-fi films of last year – to craft an awe-inspiring visual feast that’s sure to engage on many levels. Casting Oscar winner Ben Kingsley in the lead role seemed like the cherry on top of an already promising achievement in sci-fi cinema.

So how did a film with so much potential for greatness go so mind-numbingly wrong?

Let’s begin with Kinglsey, who is only a presence in the film until a “hotter” actor can stand in for his Trump-esque tycoon character, Damian Hayes. As a prolific businessman profoundly burdened by regret, Damian’s enormous wealth gives him little comfort when faced with certain and swift death in the form of malignant cancer. Brooding away in his gilded penthouse over his estranged adult daughter and what little time he has left, Damian seeks out a scientist (Matthew Goode) who promises him everlasting life in the form of "shedding:" a procedure through which his active mind can be transferred to the body of a young and handsome lab-grown human. Damian promptly discards his elderly disease-ridden body in exchange for one that, fortunately, bears the chiseled face and abs of Ryan Reynolds. The procedure is successful save for some hallucination side effects, which Ryan/Damian soon realizes may actually be memories, and that he was misled about the origins of his fresh new body. As one character puts it, Damian thought he was buying a “new car” – but instead got one that already had a few miles on it.

They don’t have a great return policy at Bodies-R-Us.
One of the most significant problems with the basic premise of the film is that there’s virtually nothing at stake for Damian by undergoing this procedure, which makes you indifferent to everything that follows the genesis of Damian 2.0. If the transfer of his mind into the younger body is not a success, he dies – something he was going to do within a month’s time anyway. “Shedding” is presented as a way for those who possess great minds to continue their work on this planet, but Damian 2.0 proceeds to do absolutely nothing with his new body besides what anyone would do if they were suddenly Ryan Reynolds: he plays basketball, goes clubbing, and gets laid (a lot). The only condition of his new arrangement is that he has to change his name, relocate to a new city, and cease contact with a daughter who didn’t want anything to do with him to begin with. If he had to live his new life in the body of someone with less-than-supermodel looks, of an opposite gender or race, or even deprived of the wealth he’s accustomed to, there would be some interesting challenges at the meat of this story. But having set aside a considerable amount of his fortune, Damian 2.0 settles comfortably into a New Orleans mansion, free to relive the youth of a pretty playboy. Where’s the profound philosophy in that?

Life is SO hard for a rich, attractive white male.
This is where the film attempts to transform Damian’s character with a great redemptive arc; an effort it fails at miserably. Upon discovering the origin of his new body, Damian 2.0 seeks out the next of kin left behind by its previous owner: a single mother (Natalie Martinez) saddled with the care of her young, chronically ill daughter. For anyone who has suffered through the grief of losing a loved one, Damian’s course of action here is so insensitive that it borders on outright cruelty. His surprise presence in their lives is ostensibly to protect and fulfill them again, but their characters are patently just a surrogate for him to rectify his own failures as a deadbeat parent. On his journey to self-discovery, Damian leaves many an innocent victim in his wake – casualties of both mortal wounds as well as emotional ones.

Also: gunshot, neck-breaking, fame-thrower wounds.
As Self/less downshifts into generic Action Movie autopilot, rife with shoot-em-ups and car chases galore, it becomes more difficult to conjure any understanding or sympathy for Damian and his plight. His consciousness was transmigrated, yet the film never fully explores whether or not that refers only to the brain, or to that elusive quality of the soul. If the Pastor Brothers focused more on the existential side of their story and toned down the action, it might make for a less exciting movie – but at least it’d have characters I cared about. The result is as hollow as the body Damian left behind, making his final “self/less” act alluded to in the film’s title absent of all the emotional significance it was striving for. The usually vivid visual palette of Singh’s work is also glaringly absent, certifying Self/less as an exercise in criminally squandered potential for all involved.

Sci-Fi Honey Rating: One Ryan Reynolds-shaped shell out of five. 

Self/less is in theaters now... but so is Mad Max: Fury Road.

Do you miss the Tarsem of old?
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