Self/less (2015)

Self/less (2015)
  • Time: 117 min
  • Genre: Mystery | Sci-Fi | Thriller
  • Director: Tarsem Singh
  • Cast: Ryan Reynolds, Ben Kingsley, Matthew Goode, Natalie Martinez


An extremely wealthy man, dying from cancer, undergoes a radical medical procedure that transfers his consciousness into the body of a healthy young man. But all is not as it seems when he starts to uncover the mystery of the body’s origin and the organization that will kill to protect its cause.


  • Two phrases encapsulate the theme of Self/Less.
    Obviously, the title is the first. A self grows into selflessness. A rampaging egotist — Ben Kingsley as geezer Damian — discovers the virtue and satisfaction of submitting to the well-being of others. The very selfish real estate mogul surrenders his own character to preserve and to free the young man whose body he has taken over (Ryan Reynolds as young Damian). Ironically, the last scene is on an island in the Bahamas, where Damian has freed his body to resume the young man’s family life with his wife and the daughter he sacrificed his life to save. The setting evokes Donne’s “No man is an island.” The geezer has learned community and social responsibility.
    Which brings us to the second phrase: The Community Coalition is the non-profit public service organization the geezer’s alienated daughter Claire has founded. The original Damian had no time for his daughter because he was too consumed with building his personal empire. When he tries to connect it’s too late. His checkbook fatherhood won’t work. The extension of his life enables him to make an emotional connection — sans checkbook — that he couldn’t in his lifetime. That’s his young body’s last service to him, which he reciprocates by giving up his character’s life for the young man to resume his.
    The minor characters replay the theme in slighter ways. The gunsel the villain scientist keeps resurrecting grows more loyal with every new life he’s given. Damian’s longtime partner Martin introduces him to the Frankensteinian “shedding” in gratitude for his success. Where Damian uses the new science to preserve himself, the ever more generous Martin used it to revive his dead young son. He’s appalled to learn that came at the expense of another family’s loss of their son. The villain scientist claims to be animating a new combination of tissue, but he’s really ending one life to use the body for another. That’s where good science goes bad. That’s also where good politics goes bad: when the innocent are forced to make the sacrifice for the powerful.
    This is a fascinating new take on a classic horror/sci-fi tradition: man’s burgeoning scientific powers enable powers previously the province of the gods. That infernal presumption is imaged in the villain’s death by flamethrower.
    Damian’s last name is “Hale” — unfitting for a man whom we meet when he is far from hale and hearty. His healthy generosity at the end earns his name.

  • Quickie Review:

    Damian (Ben Kingsley), dying from cancer uses his vast resource of wealth to go through a medical procedure to transfer his consciousness to a younger and healthier body. While the initial thrill of being young again excites him, he soon notices symptoms that make him question the origin of his new body. In his search for the truth behind the procedure, he is hunted down by the organisation behind it all. Self/Less has a premise that feels familiar but is still an interesting concept. Due to the familiarity there are no big surprises and the story is pretty much paint by the numbers action flick. However, as a whole Self/Less is still an enjoyable movie, albeit a tad too long.

    Full Review:

    Self/Less had barely any marketing where I live so I knew very little about the movie. Yet from what I saw, I was interested because it reminded me of an 90s type sci-fi action, similar to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Total Recall. A sci-fi plot just to give our hero enough motive for some action.

    The idea of transferring consciousness was the most intriguing part about the movie. Although this is quite a small movie in terms of scope, the “science” (don’t want to risk pissing off a neurologist who might read this) of it was pretty well thought out. There are rules and limitations to how the procedure works and develops. The cast work pretty well together, their chemistry is believable in the circumstances they are placed. Matthew Goode as the villain was a great fit. He never pulls a punch or trigger, but you know he is dangerous and formidable. What director Tarsem Singh really did well was developing the motives for each of the characters. In fact, he spent so much time on the characters that I hesitate to call this movie a pure action.

    This brings me to the pitfalls of the movie, one of which was that the movie was too long. I liked characters and I appreciate the effort put into developing them. Nevertheless there are definitely numerous scenes that could’ve been trimmed and still hold that level of character development. Another missed opportunity was with the dual personality of the Ryan Reynold’s character. He is a good actor but here it felt like he was just playing himself. At no point could I tell that’s Ben Kingsley in Reynold’s body. It would’ve been really interesting to have him portray two vastly different personalities.

    In the end, I was satisfied with the movie. Yes there are some story problems, but the cast chemistry and the sci-fi element will keep you interested in the movie. I wouldn’t say you need to rush out to see it immediately, but it’s a worthy lazy Sunday couch watch.

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  • Ryan Reynolds is not a bad actor. There is a sense of commitment to his performances, but he does no more than is necessary. It’s a quality that will keep him gainfully employed – he’ll never ruin a film – but will also render him firmly indistinguishable. It also means that some of his films can be frustrating to watch. Sitting through Self/less, one never shakes off the nagging thought that a more textured portrayal from Reynolds would have helped the film fulfill its potential.

    The film begins with business tycoon Damian Hale (Ben Kingsley) surveying New York’s Central Park from his cartoonishly ornate apartment. He is cold-blooded and ruthless; witness the scene where he calmly destroys the career of a young executive (Sam Page). He is also dying, a fact he hides from his estranged daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery), who misinterprets his efforts at making amends as another attempt to buy her affection.

    Tempted by the possibility where “the fate of a healthy mind is not determined by the fate of an ailing body,” Damian hands over 250 million dollars to Professor Albright (an effective Matthew Goode), the coolly composed CEO of Phoenix Biogenic, a scientific institute that has developed the technology to transfer a person’s mind into a body genetically engineered from scratch. Thus Damian is reincarnated as Edward (Reynolds) who, after a period of adjusting to his new body, is transplanted to New Orleans to live his new life which includes befriending his neighbour Anton (Derek Luke), bedding a bevy of beauties, relishing the athleticism of his body, and attending weekly meetings with the mysteriously private Albright in order to refill the medication that calms the side effects of migraines, nausea, and visual distortions resulting from the procedure.

    Edward is disturbed by the vividness of his hallucinations and, when Albright lets slip a detail that he could never have known about a particular episode, begins to suspect that he may be experiencing actual memories. But whose memories? A visit to a farm in Missouri, where he encounters the woman (Natalie Martinez) from his visions, results in a surprising reveal that deflates the film into a rote action thriller.

    Screenwriters Alex and David Pastor, the Spanish brothers who wrote and directed 2009’s commendable zombie drama Carriers, were obviously inspired by the Frankenstein myth as well as John Frankenheimer’s fantastic Seconds, so much so with the latter that it borders on the plagiaristic. In Seconds, adapted by Lewis John Carlino from David Ely’s novel, a middle-aged businessman undergoes facial and physical reconstructive surgery with the help of a secretive organisation. Seconds featured a corporate figurehead as shadowy as Albright as well as its main character seeking atonement for past neglects.

    Where Self/less deviates from Seconds is its slack exploration of the burdens of assuming a second identity. Even the increasing ease with which people shed their skin to slip into newer ones – a method worth exploiting in framework of the genre; think of how difficult it would be to defeat someone who had the ability to hide in plain sight – is given short shrift. When the film does focus on the themes of morality and identity, it never fully hits its mark due to the solid one-dimensionality of Reynolds’ emoting. At no point do you believe that Edward was ever Damian. Not when Edward reaches out to Claire and not when he seeks the help of trusted friend and business partner Martin (Victor Garber). One can argue that Reynolds is not necessarily portraying Kingsley’s Damian but a variation of that character, but there is still no connectivity. Think of how James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender’s portrayals of Professor Xavier and Magneto stood apart from and yet were of a piece with Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen’s characterisations.

    Most disappointing is the contribution of director Tarsem Singh, who has sedated his trademark baroque visual flourishes into nondescript slickness.

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