Rated PG-13. Running time: 1 hour 57 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 6; Language 4; Sex/Nudity 5.
Our star rating (1-5): 3.5
No one has power over the wind to restrain the wind, or power over the day of death…
For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling— if indeed, when we have taken it off we will not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan under our burden…
2 Corinthians 5:1-4a
Real estate tycoon Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) is very much in the upper part of the 1 % made infamous by Occupy Wall Street. The view of New York City from his King Louis XIV –like gilded condo is breathtaking, and his sleek black limo is almost spacious enough to hold a board meeting in. No 1st Class air flights for him, as he can flit about the world in his private jet. But there is trouble in his paradise—terminal cancer. However there is a way out for him: for a mere $250 million a secret organization can provide him with at least fifty more years of healthy life.
Director Tarsem Singh’s film is in the sci-fi film genre, so what the author of Ecclesiastes says is humanity’s limited “power over the day of death” is no longer the case. The apostle Paul referred to the human body as a tent, and what Damian’s quarter billion dollars will buy amounts to a new and improved tent, a young body that looks like Ryan Reynolds. The process is called “shedding.”
The head of the secret lab, known only as Albright (Matthew Goode), says to Damien as they stand looking at the body his mind with all of its memories and associations will be transferred to, “You’ve built an empire from the ground up. People will insist that your buildings make you immortal. Now, as you slip away, do you feel immortal? We offer humanity’s greatest minds more time to fulfill their potential. Designed to offer you the very best of the human experience.” As the two stare at the face of the inert body there is a slight facial movement. “It’s alive?” Damien asks. “An empty vessel,” Albright replies. Supposedly the body was grown in this lab—but how much can you trust this slick scientist salesman?
To undergo “shedding” Damien must agree to make it appear that he really died and to sever all ties with his past, including those with his estranged daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery), now head of a nonprofit agency. He of course, stashes away millions to live on, and then undergoes the process. His new life begins as Edward in New Orleans where he enters into an orgy of wining, dining, dancing, and coupling with a new sex partner every night. He also picks up a new friend Anton (Derek Luke). However, his life is not quite as free as he had thought because he must take regularly some red capsules lest he fall into hallucinations and worse—of course, Albright is the source of the pills. And did Anton just happen to become his friend through their chance meeting on an outdoor basketball court?
Up to the Sin City sequence the film has been an intriguing story raising moral and philosophical questions, perhaps, like so many tales of this genre, leading to a cautionary conclusion—like The Fly or Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde. Instead, after suffering flashbacks to military training and shots of a woman (Natalie Martinez) and young girl, the film shifts into the high gear of a chase and thriller movie. Lots of fights, gun fire, and dead bodies as Edward, struggling to obtain the red capsules that stabilize his life, heads north to locate the woman he has identified through Google. It seems that Albright will do anything to keep his organization a secret and to control its clients.
Although I agree with most critics that the quality of the film deteriorates in this violent action section, it is good to see that Damien/Edward does develop into a better person as he bonds with the mother and little girl during their flight. He even does something that perhaps reflects the title of the film, as well as recalling for us something that Albright had said, “There is no science, no progress, without sacrifice.” The same thing is true in the moral realm as well, as Edward/Damian demonstrates in the film’s moving climax.
This film with a set of discussion questions will be in the August issue of Visual Parables.