Self/less echoes classic Twilight Zone episodes, Total Recall and especially John Frankenheimer’s Seconds. Its ideas and themes are familiar, but that’s every contemporary sci-fi thriller for you. What’s important is how the film goes about presenting these concepts in a new light. In the case of Self/less, Director Tarsem Singh has made an absorbing, well-structured entertainment that’s often a pleasure to watch unfold.
Ben Kingsley is Damian, a wealthy businessman dying from cancer. Although Damian’s already contributed much to society, he feels like there’s more for him to accomplish on earth. A mysterious professor, played to chilling perfection by Matthew Goode, agrees and enlists Damian to take part in a revolutionary medical breakthrough called shedding. The process involves taking Damian’s mind and transferring it into a younger, homegrown body. Faking his death, Damian goes through with the procedure and wakes up in a body that looks an awful lot like Ryan Reynolds. Damian’s new life as an attractive, carefree bachelor starts off heavenly, but he soon realizes there’s something more devious going on.
Damian eventually encounters a woman named Madeline (Natalie Martinez) and…you know what? That’s all I’m giving away. Sure, the trailer already divulged a ton of plot details, but anybody who’s been lucky enough to avoid the ads should witness Self/less as fresh as possible. Part of the fun here is observing the screenwriters pile on the twists. The story keeps you guessing and, although there are gaping plot holes to nitpick in retrospect, a majority of the setups have solid payoffs.
What’s especially admirable about Self/less is that it doesn’t constantly convey its developments through heavy dialog. Rather, Singh lets a lot of scenes play out through visuals rather than words, keeping the plot moving at a flowing pace. The characters only stop to explain what’s going on when it’s necessary and they keep that exposition as concise as possible. It’s certainly not a visual masterpiece like Seconds, but filmmakers such as M. Night Shyamalan and the Wachowskis could certainly learn from the film’s demonstration of showing over telling.
Carrying much of the film is Ryan Reynolds in one of his best performances. Like the rest of Self/less, Reynolds is able to express so much exteriorly instead of internally. We often know what he’s thinking, but we’re also left wondering what he’s ultimately going to do in the end. As preposterous as this premise may be, Reynolds’ grounded portrayal keeps us emotionally invested every step of the way and willing to overlook some of the film’s more ridiculous moments. His journey is one full of heart and heart racing thrills, making Self/less a slick summer flick.