Alexander Payne looks at environmental issues with new film ‘Downsizing’

Alexander Payne looks at environmental issues with new film ‘Downsizing’

TORONTO — Filmmaker Alexander Payne feels a sense of powerlessness brewing in the world when it comes to the environment.

“I compost and I recycle and every time I do that I think, ‘Well this is just a tiny tiki umbrella against the immense avalanche,’” the two-time Oscar winner said in an interview at September’s Toronto International Film Festival.

“But what are you supposed to do, not do that? I drive an electric car. What’s pernicious is what I’m told may be happening among some youth — which is in teens and 20s — is they know we’re screwed, so it’s like what’s the point?

“There’s a type of nihilism or apathy or fatalism, saying: ‘Well let’s just have a good time and party and who cares because we’re all screwed anyway? Why do anything?’ On the other hand there are many young people who are really disgusted with the world they’re inheriting and do want to work to fight it and change it.”

Payne tackles that subject in his new comedy-drama Downsizing, which hits theatres Friday.

Matt Damon stars as an occupational therapist lured into the new trend of “cellular reduction,” in which humans are shrunk to a height of 13 centimetres in an effort to reduce their carbon footprint and help save the environment from overpopulation.

Kristen Wiig co-stars as his wife, while Christoph Waltz and Hong Chau are among those who play residents of a tiny community Damon’s character moves into once he’s downsized.

Payne co-wrote the film with Jim Taylor, with whom he also collaborated on the boozy 2004 dramedy Sideways, which earned them an Oscar for best adapted screenplay.

Payne also directed the story, which ”turned out to be a handy prism through which to view a lot of things,” he said.

“I guess I did have the urge to make something of a political film, but you can’t make a literal political film, you have to have some kind of metaphor,” said Payne, who also won an Oscar for co-writing The Descendants.

“So it struck me that that would be a good metaphor.”

Payne used the biblical story of Adam and Eve disobeying the rules in the idyllic Garden of Eden as an example.

“One definitely has the feeling right now on Earth that things are going to have to get a lot worse before they get better, and that’s unfortunate,” Payne said.

“Certainly with the environment — it’s going to have to get a lot worse. That’s what we’re all feeling, I think. We’re being told that it may be irreversible.”

Overall, the film is a commentary on materialism, consumerism and classism, said Payne, pointing to scenes in which certain residents of a downsized community live in a poor neighbourhood bordered by a wall.

“In all my films I’m thinking about class — class and its relationship to race,” he said.

“We had no idea when we were conceiving the film that the idea of having Mexicans behind a wall would acquire a stronger significance.”

Payne shot most of the film in Toronto and Milton, Ont., which provided the perfect quarry needed for scenes of a Norwegian village.

“(Toronto) offered a variety of looks, and we used the big sound stages at Pinewood and whatever tax credits are given by the government and the province, especially for a visual effects film,” said Payne, who lived in the city’s Roncesvalles neighbourhood during production.

“So economically and creatively it made sense to base here.”

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

A nurse gets a swab ready at a temporary COVID-19 test clinic in Montreal, on Friday, May 15, 2020. Health Canada has reversed course on home test kits for COVID-19, saying it will now review applications for such devices. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Alberta declines Ontario’s request to send health-care workers

Alberta is “not in a position” to send health-care workers out of… Continue reading

The Red Deer Rebels allowed four straight goals from the Medicine Hat Tigers Friday night on the road. (Photo by Rob Wallator/ Red Deer Rebels)
Tigers hand Red Deer Rebels 10th straight loss

Tigers 4 Rebels 2 Through 17 games in the shortened WHL season,… Continue reading

Meghan Huizing has been selected by Red Deer Catholic Regional Schools as a finalist for the Alberta School Boards Association (ASBA) 2021 Edwin Parr Award. (Photo courtesy of Red Deer Regional Catholic Schools)
Red Deer Catholic names finalist for Edwin Parr Award

Meghan Huizing from St. Gregory the Great Catholic School in Blackfalds has… Continue reading

GrammaLink-Africa members are participating in the Stride to Turn the Tide campaign until June 30. (Contributed photo)
Red Deer group walking to raise money for African grandmothers

A group of central Albertans will be walking every day until the… Continue reading

Red Deer Public Schools will not pilot the new draft curriculum at its elementary schools. (File photo contributed by Red Deer Public Schools)
UPDATED: Red Deer Public Schools says no to piloting new curriculum

Alberta Teachers’ Association support school boards

Montreal Canadiens' Tyler Toffoli celebrates his goal past Calgary Flames goaltender Jacob Markstrom during second-period NHL hockey action in Montreal on Friday, April 16, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Toffoli scores twice, Canadiens put some distance on Flames with 2-1 win

Toffoli scores twice, Canadiens put some distance on Flames with 2-1 win

Canadian prop Jake Ilnicki savouring life in Seattle, looks forward to facing Arrows

Canadian prop Jake Ilnicki savouring life in Seattle, looks forward to facing Arrows

Corey Conners, of Canada, hits out of a bunker on the seventh hole during the final round of the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga., Sunday, April 11, 2021. Conners notched six birdies on his back nine to take the lead after his second round of the RBC Heritage on Friday. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Matt Slocum
Canadian Corey Conners surges into lead at PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage

Canadian Corey Conners surges into lead at PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage

Patrick Marleau poised to break Gordie Howe’s games record

Patrick Marleau poised to break Gordie Howe’s games record

Leylah Annie Fernandez of Canada serves to Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in round 1 of the Rogers Cup women's tennis tournament in Toronto, Monday August 5, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Mark Blinch
Rebecca Marino propels Canada into 2-0 lead over Serbia at Billie Jean King Cup

Rebecca Marino propels Canada into 2-0 lead over Serbia at Billie Jean King Cup

Dalton Kellett pulls out of the pits during a practice session for the Indianapolis 500 auto race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, in Indianapolis, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. Dalton Kellett is pleased his second career season in IndyCar will be different than his first, which started on an elaborate iRacing rig in his home office in Indianapolis because of COVID-19 restrictions. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Darron Cummings
Canada’s Dalton Kellett set for a more stable season as an IndyCar driver

Canada’s Dalton Kellett set for a more stable season as an IndyCar driver

Canada head coach Bev Priestman reacts during the women's international friendly soccer match between England and Canada at Bet365 stadium in Stoke on Trent, England, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Rui Vieira
Canadian women get peek at their possible road at Olympic soccer tournament

Canadian women get peek at their possible road at Olympic soccer tournament

Head coach John Tait talks to his team as Canada takes on Japan in women's sevens rugby action at the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on Saturday, Aug. 6, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Rugby Canada says probe into complaint from members of women’s 7s team is complete

Rugby Canada says probe into complaint from members of women’s 7s team is complete

Most Read