I never realized how boring our single planet is in its orbit around the sun. In the solar system in Upside Down, there are two planets that share the same orbit, one right on top of the other. There is no sky to look up to on these planets; when you look up, you just see the other planet’s surface. Their names are also indicative of their respective social status, identity, and overall general welfare. There is Down Below and Up Above.
In space, there is no up or down, left or right. On these two planets though, the one known as Down Below is grey, cold, and seems to rain a sort of heavy crude oil substance. On Up Above, it is sunny, people have money, and at night their lights shine bright while Down Below is mostly dark. There are a lot of echoes of East vs. West Berlin. Even the cars on Down Below resemble the emblematic East German Trabant.
There are some physical rules on the two planets concerning gravity. If you are born on Down Below, your personal gravity belongs to that planet. If you somehow make it Up Above, you will just float back to Down Below. There are other rules, but it is best not to spend too much time memorizing them, it may take you right out of the film.
Adam (Jim Sturgess) is from Down Below and Eden (Kirsten Dunst) is from Up Above. Notice the symbolism there? Adam and Eden? As kids, they lived in the mountains, which are the closest points between the two worlds. They are able to look up/down at each other and talk. Eventually, they use ropes to climb/descend and they fall in love. This is forbidden. There are border police whose job it is to prevent any mixing of regular folks between the worlds.
The one spot where the two worlds legally intersect is in the massive Transworld office building, which has two foundations, one on each of the worlds. The building has a floor 0 right in the middle where desks face each other as if in a mirror. Transworld is something like Exxon/Mobil or BP. They are from Up Above, transport and refine Down Below’s oil, and sells it back to them at inflated costs they cannot afford.
Adam spends the majority of the film trying to discover a way to be with Eden. This is trickier than the standard plot of star cross’d lovers from two warring families; this is two different gravities. Upside Down’s story sounds complex but it is quite simple if you leave out the physics. If you start thinking about planetary rotation, atmospheres, etc… you will be in trouble.
Upside Down is fascinating because of what it looks like. I have never seen anything like it; Inception is the closest comparison. The camera frequently switches between what you think is up and down. People are the floor, no, people are on the ceiling. Adam falls out of one ocean and into another. The visual effects budget must have dwarfed every other department by a mile on this shoot. There are times where these tricks are not as convincing such as Adam’s office cubicle and his interactions with his Up Above office buddy, Bob (Timothy Spall), but it is still fun to watch.
However, when they are outside, it is gorgeous. There is a chase scene between the two planets on a mountain top where you cannot tell who is on what world or who is looking up and who is looking down that is one of the more spellbinding scenes I have seen in a long time. If only the story were a bit stronger. The film spends all of its time focused on Adam and his quest to be together with Eden that the movie forgets all about Eden. We see her from time to time but we know nothing at all about her.
Upside Down has a very unique and creative screenplay full of original ideas. Its visuals are absolutely stunning. Perhaps the filmmakers ran out of money making it so appealing to our eyes, they forgot to make it as appealing to our minds. In the end, there is no weight to ground all the ideas floating around here.