Synopsis: In the provocative psychological science fiction thriller Self/Less, an extremely wealthy man (Academy Award winner Ben Kingsley) dying from cancer undergoes a radical medical procedure that transfers his consciousness into the body of a healthy young man (Ryan Reynolds). But all is not as it seems when he starts to uncover the mystery of the body’s origin and the organization that will kill to protect its cause.
Release Date: July 10, 2015 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Self/Less is the type of movie that’s built purely on a clever idea. Someone in a room thought, “Hey, what if there was a technology that let you transfer your consciousness into a healthy ‘new’ body?” But rather than carefully considering how that idea can expand into a story, the filmmakers just ran with it. As a result, Self/Less feels like wasted potential on nearly every front. It’s the type of mindless pseudo-sci-fi drama that exists solely to remind you that big thinking can only get something so far.
At its core, Self/Less is a story about Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley from Iron Man 3), a wealthy businessman whose cancer has him knocking on death’s door. However, a radical and extremely expensive new procedure called ‘Shedding’ has Damian believing that there might be a second chance for him. All he needs to do is transfer his consciousness into a “new,” virile body — that of Buried‘s Ryan Reynolds as “Young Damian” — and all should be right with the world, right? Wrong.
Eventually Damian, in the body of Reynolds, discovers that the Shedding procedure is far less kosher than originally implied. There are dark secrets lingering beneath the surface of both Damian’s new mind and the mysterious company that gave him immortality.
From a narrative perspective, Self/Less is well executed in that it moves from point A to point B with relative ease. Audiences will be able to follow the natural progression of the film, and they may be shocked by its few twists and turns. However, the journey in Self/Less, as Damian transforms from cutthroat to caring, is handled with little concern for whether it makes sense. The second Kingsley’s Damian enters Reynolds’ body he’s all of the sudden a more compassionate figure, despite prior scenes in which he is little more than a cliche business mogul.
Now, there are some ways to explain this change in Damian’s behavior, but the problems still exist nonetheless. In a body switch film, or in this case a body transfer, we should be able to see the former character’s personality in their new form. Here we do not. Not even close.
To be fair, Reynolds does carry the film with his usual balance of charm and gravitas, and he’s mostly likable throughout. Self/Less asks quite a lot of the actor, and he does well to translate internal emotions into a compelling on-screen performance while juggling a few quick action scenes. His ability to imbue Damian with deeper emotion does clash with the pre-Shedding set-up, but it’s hard to fault Reynolds for those character inconsistencies. There may be a lot of tonal conflicts within the movie, but Reynolds’ performance does deserve credit.
Where Reynolds proves his talent with lesser material, director Tarsem Singh (Mirror Mirror) becomes a gun for hire on a bland studio picture. Best known for his work on The Fall and The Cell, Singh built a name for himself as a visual auteur whose color palette and eye for unique camera placement made each of his films a cinematic treat. Sure, many of them lacked quality in other areas, but few could argue the man’s painterly touch. For Self/Less, though, it’s as if Singh didn’t just phone it in, he let the project shoot itself. There’s no better way to complement dull sci-fi than with straightforward cinematography, and Singh lets the cinematic sins go on unchecked.
With a little more time, or maybe a few more critical eyes, Self/Less could have been a unique sci-fi thriller/drama built on a compelling platform. But the problem is the filmmakers simply started building without understanding what would make the overall conceit work. They focused too much on the building blocks and not enough on forming them into a stable foundation. And in the end what we’re left with is a movie that most will say could have been better, but as it stands is a forgettable drama with a lot of wasted talent.
Not to belabor the point, but someone needs to be taken to task for Self/Less‘ disappointing script. Outside of its initial concept, the Self/Less screenplay is wasted potential, played out in a fairly obvious and hopelessly boring way. The film is at odds with itself, in that it doesn’t want to spend time exploring the real meat of the Shedding concept, and yet it’s 2 hours long. And that’s 2 hours spent watching Damian Hale come to conclusions and resolutions that we saw coming long before. It’s like waiting for the last group in a scavenger hunt to find the final clues long after all the other teams have completed. Could the film have been worse? Most likely, but that doesn’t forgive its inability to be smart or unique.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Tarsem Singh
- Screenwriter(s): David Pastor, Alex Pastor
- Cast: Ryan Reynolds (Young Damian). Natalie Martinez (Madeline), Matthew Goode (Albright), Ben Kingsley (Damian), Victor Garber (Martin), Derek Luke (Anton)
- Editor(s): Robert Duffy
- Cinematographer: Brendan Galvin
- Music Score: Dudu Aram
- Country Of Origin: USA