Self/Less could have been so much more of a film if the creators had maintained the focus on humans’ search for immortality. Their fantasy of science creating a way for a person to “shed” a diseased body and retain their mental capacity and experience certainly is intriguing. Dr. Albright (Goode) casually observes that this is a win/lose proposition, but unfortunately for Damian/Eddie (Kingsley/Reynolds) this is only elaborated on after the operation is completed.
The loss part for this particular movie for me were the car chases/crashes and fierce gun battles, with unbelievable outcomes. Sometimes filmmakers think they have to always cater to the young man’s taste and include heroics even when it is not necessary to make a film interesting.
Leaving that aside, Damian is dying and someone gives him a mysterious card that says the name on it could be helpful to him. He tries to connect with his estranged daughter Claire (Dockery), but when she rejects him and they get into an argument, he feels guilty and miserable. Soon after, he collapses and is taken to the hospital, whereupon he decides to visit Dr. Albright. Damian is a billionaire, so he can well afford the “treatment” offered by Dr. Albright—the transplant of a new body while leaving his mind intact. Damian does not want to die so agrees to the procedure.
Interesting to me is that post surgery, he has to be retrained in many kinds of physical actions—like walking—but in short order, he is fit as a fiddle—and only in his 30’s. He is given a new name, identity, and papers and lives the good life with a new friend (Luke) he has met in New Orleans, where the procedure was performed and where he is put up in an apartment as arranged by Dr. Albright. Then he begins to have hallucinations and other symptoms associated with the transplant, and is reminded that he absolutely cannot skip taking the pills prescribed by Dr. Albright. Without the medication he will eventually lose his abilities and die. But Dr. Albright has built in a handy little perk for himself: The patient cannot contact him; Albright will periodically visit the patient and give him a small bottle of the medication, thereby keeping him “on a hook” and observed.
But what he—now he is Eddie—observes in his hallucinations bothers him so much because they seem so real, and because he has never seen the people within them before. He starts to explore, first by searching on the internet, and then doing some detective work. What he finds, is shattering, and the rest of the story is about how all that plays out.
I was upbeat about seeing Self/Less because I liked Tarsem Singh’s earlier film, The Fall, and as I say, the part about seeking immortality through the process called “shedding” (i.e., shedding the body) was intriguing, and the aspect of crime associated with scientific breakthroughs enlivens the pace and captures our interest. It’s going over the top with the violence to the point of absurdity that detracts from the quality of this film.
The main cast is really fine with Ben Kingsley acting out a billionaire’s dilemma in encountering something he can’t do anything about, and Ryan Reynolds’ portraying an armed services veteran whose fitness and combat skills are formidable. Matthew Goode is convincing as a competent scientist in complete control, but with ulterior motives that are initially hidden. The two main actresses (Michelle Dockery and Natalie Martinez) have lesser roles, but are very good in what they do.
Too much violence lessens the impact of a potentially interesting film.
Grade: C+ By Donna R. Copeland