Author: Santiago Amigorena & Juan Diego Solanas
Writer’s Potential: 5
In a universe defined by two “mirror image” worlds facing each other, a man from “down below” strives to get “up top” to reunite with his childhood sweetheart.
ADAM KIRK (25) lives in the blasted-out ruins of “down below.” He works at a small boutique that looks more like a junk shop, where he and ALBERT attempt to perfect an anti-aging cream. They watch a news report sponsored by the Transworld Corporation, which is running a lottery that allows lucky winners from “down below” to work for Transworld. Adam, Albert, and their down below friends speculate on what the “up top” is like. The news report features a brief interview with EDEN MOORE, someone Adam loved as a child, now grown up. Adam steps outside, revealing for the first time that, up in the sky, is an inverted city—“up top,” connected by the Transworld Tower, headquarters of a massive corporation employing people from both worlds. A NARRATOR explains the history of this odd world: in more primitive times, emissaries from each world would gather at the tallest peak of the Sage Mountains to hold conversations. Problems with gravity prevented people from going from one side or the other, but they quickly learned that they could send goods back and forth by combining materials from both worlds. This led to a great time of trade, but as what would come to be known as the “up top” became more advanced, resentments built and war broke out, leaving “down below” a husk of its former self, controlled by “up top” in something akin to South African apartheid.
A few decades later, down below discovered electricity and oil, while up top discovered “inverse matter,” a better method for heat and power that man citizens of down below sought above all else, frequently risking their lives to go up top and steal some. As a child, Adam was raised by his AUNT BECKY in a rural home in the mountains. His parents died in an oil refinery explosion. Becky showed Adam how to make odd, gravity-defying pancakes using the pollen of pink bees that lived in the Sage Mountains. One day, Adam sees Eden for the first time. She frequently accompanies her father, SENATOR MOORE, on hunting trips. They start conversing awkwardly, then become the best of friends, trying as best as they can to share things between their two worlds. They do this for years, blossoming into teenagers, but eventually the border police—led by the sinister LAGAVULIN—spot Adam and Eden together. They shoot at Adam, hitting him in the shoulder and hitting Eden in the chest. Adam sneaks back home, but shortly thereafter he’s arrested for attempting to kidnap Eden. Eden, meanwhile, falls into a coma, and when she wakes, she remembers nothing of her life. Ironically, the governments of both worlds hail this action a rousing success, the first time border agents from each side have worked together to enforce apartheid. Becky’s house is burned down, and she dies in a fire. Adam spends the rest of his youth in an orphanage.
Back in the present, Adam meets with Lagavulin, now a bigwig at Transworld. Adam impresses him with the experimental anti-aging cream and hires him to continue developing it. Adam works on Transworld’s “zero floor,” an M.C. Escher-like double-floor where down below and up top workers are side by side, with less than six feet of clearance between them. Adam immediately strikes up a friendship with BOB, an up top worker who doesn’t share the prejudices of his coworkers. Meanwhile, Eden toils in Transworld’s graphic design department, hating her job. As a reward for working at Transworld, Adam is allocated a small amount of inverse matter. He’s warned not to take more than his share. Once he’s sure he can trust Bob, Adam asks him to help track down Eden Moore. Bob is surprised he’d know anyone from up top.
Adam returns home from his first day of work. Albert and his friends are annoyed he’d work for such a miserable company. They’re all concerned about Adam’s obsession with reconnecting with Eden. He won’t give up, so they reluctantly help him come up with a plan to get up top. The next day, Adam and Lagavulin show various executives a test of Adam’s cream (Adam climbing a stepladder to reach their height). They’re impressed with the results, but not how long it lasts. They agree to allow Adam to perfect it as a long-lasting agent. Adam returns to his cubicle, where Bob is surprised to find him intending to work late. He and the other workers leave Adam alone. He sneaks out a bit more inverse matter. He calls Eden, who is in a meeting. Her friend, PAULA, answers. Giving Bob’s name, Adam schedules a meeting with Eden on Paula’s behalf. Using the inverse matter rods, Adam hides in a maintenance room and figures out the proper weight to pin himself to up top’s gravity. Once he’s succeeded, he returns to Albert and his friends so they can construct a suit to stay up top temporarily. Albert tells Adam to cool down with water if needed.
Eden goes to an amnesiac support group. She tearfully explains how difficult her loss of memory has been on her, explaining that even now, her mind is like a sieve. New things don’t stick as easily. Adam gives Bob a bunch of down below stamps for his collection. In exchange, he asks for a bunch of up top items. Bob looks at the list, perplexed: hairspray, sports jackets—these are odd items to him. Bob gets Adam what he needs, so he’s able to look the part for his meeting with Eden. He goes up to Eden’s office, introducing himself as Bob. He’s dismayed when she doesn’t recognize him at all. He insists they’ve met before, and she confesses her memory is not great and apologizes. Trying to read her expression, Adam doesn’t want to believe this has all been for nothing. Undaunted, he demonstrates his anti-aging cream, and she’s impressed. Adam starts to feel the inverse matter rod counterweights heating up. He rushes to a restroom, confusing Eden, and tries to cool down the rods in the sink. Another man enters the restroom, so Adam pretends to urinate—but his pee goes up instead of down. The man doesn’t notice, but security sensors do. Adam flees quickly, before the bathroom is locked down. Eden is left alone, wondering what happened to “Bob.”
The next day is the first Thursday of the quarter. Lagavulin gleefully wanders up and down zero floor, firing people. Bob explains that this is a tradition every quarter and tells Adam he won’t have to worry—he’s too new, and if he can perfect the cream, they’ll never fire him. Unfortunately, Bob gets fired. He’s shocked. He thinks it’s a mistake, but he’s assured that Transworld does not make mistakes. Dejected, Bob goes home. Adam steals Bob’s access badge, which he leaves on his desk. Eden calls Bob’s desk. Adam hears the phone ring at the empty desk. He reaches up and answers it. Adam apologizes for ditching her. She invites him to lunch, at an up top café, tomorrow. Adam agrees to it despite the challenge. Albert fits him with a new suit that will last him a maximum of two hours.
Adam sneaks to the up top part of the Transworld building, then takes the elevator down to the ground level. His mind reels at both the advanced technology and the wastefulness of up top. He tries to keep his emotions in check as he arrives at the café. Eden keeps things like, but Adam immediately presses her on them knowing each other. Angry at the mention of her deceased father’s name, Eden gets up to leave. Adam convinces her to stay, making up a story about simply running into her on the elevator and really liking her. She stays. Adam tells Eden his cream is more than an anti-aging cream. Eden asks for his help on a project she’s working on. He agrees, and as they leave the café, she invites him on another date. Just then, his counterweights start to overheat. He quickly agrees to the date, then runs. Police notice him and give chase. Adam dives into the ocean, removing his special vest, which causes him to “fall up” into the air, and crash into the sea down below. That night, Eden dreams of childhood and seeing Adam get shot.
The next day, Lagavulin and Adam demonstrate the anti-aging cream for the marketing team, including Eden. She asks a question, addressing Adam as “Bob Boruchowitz.” Keeping cool, Adam tells her she’s mistaken—he’s Adam Kirk. Livid, Eden storms out of the conference. Lagavulin tracks down files on Adam and Bob. Adam goes up top to try to find Eden, who is confronting her mother about the mysterious death of her father. Border police start chasing Adam, so he’s forced to hide on the underside of a bridge. He’s robbed by several thugs and left on the ceiling of a big water cistern, where a family has been forced to live. MARK, the head of the household, explains that they’re “emancipated” after escaping from up top slavery. They prefer to stay up top, because most of the food they throw away is better than what you could pay for down below. Adam puts his weighted suit back on and sneaks over to Bob’s house, begging for help. Bob fits him with an experimental suit that will allow him to stay up top longer.
Lagavulin is enraged to learn that they don’t know the main ingredient of Adam’s cream. He sends security after Adam. Adam meets Eden for their date. She’s started to remember things about her accident. Just as she confronts Adam, the border police raid the café. Adam tries to sneak away, but the police noticed. They chase him. Eden follows. They end up at the top peak of the Sage Mountains. They make love in mid-air, in the nebulous gravity between the up top and down below peaks. Eden decides to go back down below with him. The police arrive, chasing them through an old quarry. In order to save Eden, Adam is forced to let go of a cable and fall back into the mountains down below. Eden thinks he’s dead, but he’s not—Lagavulin saves him, because he wants his formula.
Some time later, Adam has recovered and been returned down below. The cream is released up top and becomes a huge seller. Based on something Adam said, Bob discovers a way to defy gravity by drinking water from down below (or vice-versa). He goes down below and shocks Adam, Albert, and their friends, although he confesses the “miracle” only lasts an hour. He has brought somebody with him—Eden, pregnant with twins. She’s able to stay down below. The twins she’s carrying keep her bound to this plane. It occurs to all of them that, perhaps, cross-breeding will eliminate the gravity problems they have.
Decades later, a history teacher finishes telling her students the story of Adam and Eden, whose love forever changed the course of history. She sends the kids out to recess, and they run all over the place, defying gravity. Meanwhile, Bob has opened his own “inner beauty” salon.
Upside Down has big, ambitious desires—of telling a compelling love story, of using a sci-fi world as a metaphor for contemporary social problems, of glimpsing a sumptuous visual world—but the script is too muddled and unfocused for any of these ideas to jell. It does have some nice visual ideas, but the love story is too rushed to believe, the social metaphors are eye-rollingly unsubtle, and the characters and literal story are too scattershot and incoherent to succeed. As written, it merits a pass.
The story doesn’t exactly get off on the right foot: after an intentionally confusing in medias res opening, the writer literally backtracks thousands of years, allowing a narrator to explain everything you ever wanted to know about this world (but were afraid to ask). It’s all necessary information, but it’s not terribly compelling cinema, even when the narrator flashes forward a few thousand years to the shooting incident that caused Eden to lose her memory. The first act isn’t much more than heaping helpings of backstory (much of which is explained later in dialogue, and since the script runs a scant 83 pages, that means tons of redundancy), so it would have been nice if the writer could have found a way to integrate the needed information into the story instead of stopping it in its tracks for 25 pages.
The brief second act focuses far too much on the machinations of Adam getting “up top” and far too little on developing the romance between Adam and Eden. Their scenes together are too brief to show any real romantic spark, as if the writer expects Adam’s juvenile fantasies of who this woman is would carry over for the rest of the script. It’s never really made clear why Adam is so intently focused on getting back to Eden, nor is it clear why Eden never seems to take an interest in her pre-amnesia life until she starts dreaming of Adam.
The third act is a letdown in the exact same mold: it’s mindlessly preoccupied with gravity-defying antics and lengthy border-police chases, but the writer has not taken the time to develop an interesting (or even believable) romance between Adam and Eden. It’s hard to care about whether or not they end up together when their relationship consists of a brief lunch date and fuzzy, decade-old memories. Worse still, the rules governing the dual gravitational pull get muddled enough to become frustrating in the third act. Downplaying the script as an offbeat, futuristic fairy tale is fine, but at least the rules of its own universe should have some kind of internal logic, even if it’s different and strange compared to ours. Chalking it up to “it’s a fairy tale—it doesn’t have to make sense” is incredibly lazy. This finally careens to a goofy resolution that, as usual, is incredibly rushed, leaving questions about what Bob’s “inner beauty” salon has to do with anything previously established about his character and why the breeding of an “up top” and “down below” couple automatically reverse the effects of their gravity. Wouldn’t this just cause everyone to flat, is if they were in space? This script is way too short for everything to be so rushed and incoherent.
The story also includes numerous references that, despite mentioning “apartheid” multiple times, make it pretty evident that this is an allegory about Mexico, the U.S., and illegal immigration. This aspect of the story doesn’t work, but it’s portrayed with such an unsubtle touch, it’s impossible to ignore the parallels.
As mentioned, the Adam-Eden romance that’s supposed to drive this script simply doesn’t work. The writer rushes through so much, he never takes the time to develop them as individuals, and he doesn’t allow their romance to blossom in a naturally way. One awkwardly written date scene attempts to plow through the entire “blossoming” portion, so it can move on to how Adam will get away with defying gravity. It might have been interesting if Eden had proved to be the exact opposite of what Adam was looking for, as a result of her memory loss or just the diverging paths of two adults from opposite sides of the tracks. However, the writer doesn’t take enough time with this relationship for anything interesting or unexpected to happen.