When the elderly, terminally ill Damian seeks to prolong his life by having his mind transferred into a healthy young body, things don’t quite go as expected.
For one thing, the healthy young body he now inhabits may have been given to him in a lab, but it wasn’t necessarily grown there…
Damian (Ben Kingsley) is a wealthy old man who has burned a lot of bridges in getting to where he is – which is obscenely wealthy and terminally ill – and completely alone.
Through a circuitous series of events, he is given the chance to have his mind transferred into a healthy young body (Ryan Reynolds) so that he can actively enjoy the fruits of his labor. When he forgets a dose of the anti-rejection drug he was given to allow his mind and new body to acclimate to each other, he suffers some strange hallucinations. Dr. Albright (Matthew Goode) – the man who created the technology whose benefits Damian now enjoys – both reminds him that he must take his meds and ups the dosage.
When the hallucinations continue, he begins to suspect that maybe they’re memories – but that would mean that his new body wasn’t actually grown in a lab!
By not taking his meds for an extended period, Damian puts enough of these memories together that he is able to piece together an idea of who his body’s previous owner was. Things get complicated when he contrives to visit the man’s wife and young daughter.
Now, Damian is in the middle of a biotech conspiracy – and Albright won’t have it.
Self/less was written by David Pastor and Alex Pastor, who give a very Frankenstein story a high tech update. Director Tarsem Singh (The Cell, The Fall, Immortals) doesn’t get the opportunity to be as out there, visually, as in his previous films, but he certainly brings a unique sensibility to the high-tech world in which Albright operates.
Kingsley is only in about twenty minutes of the film, but by the time Damian transfers into his new body, he has made sure we know just how loathsome the man is.
Reynolds does a good job of projecting the joy Damian feels as he explores the limits of his new body – and his dawning realization something is not precisely as advertised with his new body. that Derek Luke is fine in a small role as a friend Damian makes in a pickup basketball game.
Natalie Martinez is lovely as the woman who is astonished when her husband reappears in her life.
Self/less opens looking like an exploration of what someone will do to become, for all intents and purpose, immortal. Then, it becomes an examination of ethics – personal (what will Damian do when he learns his new body belonged to someone else) and professional (as we learn more of how Albright came to have that new body for Damian).
Despite taking a simplistic look at its themes, Self/less maintains interest through Singh’s subtler than usual direction and some solid performances. Between them, they overcome the shift from provocative think piece to action movie – and the choice to take things to a more Hollywood conclusion. But it’s a close call…
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