The 400-Word Review: Self/less
By Sean Collier
July 13, 2015
The moral implications of alternate forms of consciousness — be they artificial or our own, transferred beyond our bodies — may be the current dominant subject in science fiction. It is, perhaps, the great futurist question of our age: What happens if the definition of a sentient organism suddenly means something other than a naturally-born human who lives and dies?
Films such as Her and Ex Machina, to name two recent examples, have dealt with the concept in deft and intriguing ways. But, as bad films often follow good, Self/less is here to simplify the query and turn it into an action flick.
Under the direction of Indian director Tarsem Singh, Self/less skips over the details and posits a simple what-if. In either the present day or the very near future, an underground network of scientists can transfer a dying human’s consciousness into another body, provided the dying individual is preposterously wealthy.
How does it work? Why does it work? Never mind. Self/less starts with momentum and style, as real estate mogul Damian (Ben Kingsley) signs up for the procedure. He’s directed to a public place in New Orleans, where his apparent death can be visible and verifiable, then clandestinely whisked into an underground lab where his consciousness is deposited in the body of a strapping young man (Ryan Reynolds). The techies, led by smooth-talking Albright (Matthew Goode), assure Damian that the new body was grown in a lab.
If you believe Albright, you haven’t seen many movies. But anyway.
This is a moment at which Self/less has a deal of potential; it’s uncertain what screenwriters David and Àlex Pastor will do with the premise, which seems rich with possibility. Unfortunately, they decide to go in perhaps the least interesting direction imaginable, reducing the drama to simple on-the-run action sequences and dispatching the philosophy almost entirely.
Before long, it’ll become clear that skipping over any explanation of its own technology isn’t the only sidestepping Self/less engages in. The plot is forced forward so quickly that we’re meant to ignore innumerable breaches in logic, motivation and structure; unfortunately, the action isn’t interesting enough to mask the nonsense.
Kingsley’s brief role is captivating, and Reynolds doesn’t completely foul things up. The rest of the crew is composed of replacement players at best. No one seems motivated to put much into Self/less; that apathy will likely be shared by audiences.
My Rating: 4/10
Sean Collier is the Associate Editor of Pittsburgh Magazine and a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association. Read more from Sean at pittsburghmagazine.com/afterdark