There is a great deal that can be inferred by writer-director Juan Solaris’ Upside Down, depending on the context in which you view the film. At the simplest level it is a love story about two people from different stations in life who desperately want to be together even though it is forbidden–a tale as old as time. Another possibility is to see Upside Down as commentary on social politics, the have’s and the have-nots constantly at odds with one another and the sole individual willing to risk it all to bring about equality. There is one more route you can take, that of a historical recalling and a fantastical glimpse into post-war worlds–as the two worlds created in the movie resemble greatly historical photos of post-WWII Germany or Poland versus the untarnished industrialized and thriving West. With so many possibilities Upside Down can easily please a variety of viewers, what it cannot do is uplift the viewer as it fails to delve deeply enough into any one theme, one idea, or one clear vision to warrant greatness, just mild amusement and a deep want for greater meaning that never comes.
The easiest way to approach Upside Down is as a romantic drama. Adam (Jim Sturgess) and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) meet as teenagers and instantly find a connection with one another. The hitch is of course that they live in opposite worlds–and not just metaphorically. There are twin worlds in Upside Down where the gravity on each is opposite. Not only is Adam from a poverty-stricken existence and Eden from wealth but they also cannot exist on each other’s worlds because of the gravitational pull. It makes for a difficult romance, and the help of natural elements, like rocks, to keep one in place while visiting the other. Their love story is fated to fail from the beginning, and it is only made worse by the fact that it is forbidden to interact with someone from the “other” world. After a freak accident Adam and Eden are separated–he believes she is dead–for ten years, and it is only when Adam discovers Eden is alive and working at TransWorld–the corporation that controls the people of both worlds and is the only structure that connects the two planets–that Upside Down‘s real love story begins. In true romantic fashion, Adam gets a job at TransWorld in order to find Eden but it is complicated by the amnesia she has suffered. Without any memory of Adam he is merely an interesting new hire; little does she know that he is from the “other” world and using matter from her world in order to defy the gravitational pull. Or that she once loved him.
It all sounds very romantic, and Upside Down is not without moments of said romance. The problem comes with the quickness at which everything happens. Upside Down sets up a great deal of possibilities, from the romance between Adam and Eden, the corporate control of two worlds, the desire to be greater than ones stations allows, scientific innovation as progress, and more. But it never manages to delve into any one theme or story enough to leave the viewer satisfied. Even the romance is left to chance, based on whether Eden will regain her memories of Adam. The quickness of the story is justified by the time Adam can spend in the other world–the matter he uses against gravity grows hot the longer it is used until it actually burns his skin. This could have easily been rectified if the scientific innovation storyline was fleshed out more fully. Adam is a scientist and his work at TransWorld is for a cosmetic line of skin firming treatments. Yet, as the viewer is well-aware even if Adam is not, his invention can be manipulated to defy gravity and bring the worlds together. Solaris does not take this route with Adam; he leaves that to a quick scene at the end of the film with supporting character Bob Boruchowitz (Timothy Spall) that hints at a new future for the two worlds. Adam is kept as a one-dimensional character, so consumed by love that he cannot see the larger possibilities of what he is doing, creating, and defying. Upside Down resorts to the most simplistic storyline where it could have delved deeply to bring larger meaning to a story grounded in romance.
Then there is the use of “Adam” and “Eden” as the main characters names. The obviousness of this choice is thrown in your face at the end of the film. A pregnancy is what brings Adam and Eden together, in one world, at the end of the movie. The explanation is simply that because Eden is with child she can exist in both worlds. The child, born from the two “parents” of the “new” human race will bring together the two worlds, supposedly. But will Eden be able to exist in Adam’s world once the child is born? The question hangs there like a heavy brick at the end of Upside Down without any answer. The future is there, but the explanation for its existence is thin. That can be said for the entire movie, Upside Down is a thin telling of a larger and much grander story. Juan Solaris has a great imagination, even if it is plagued by commonality. The visuals in Upside Down are exceptional, stunning, miraculous, and absolutely breathtaking. The movie itself is entertaining, if one quickly accepts that it will lack any substance, even if the story had the possibilities for such.