Self/Less | Film | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper


Interesting ideas about the mind-body and bioethics devolve into boring chase thriller

Tarsem Singh's thriller starts off with a decent enough premise. A wealthy, self-absorbed super-rich man named Damian (Ben Kingsley) is dying of cancer. He hears of a specialized clinic where his mind can be transferred into the body of younger man, a donor of sorts, and then the world will still benefit from his acquired knowledge and wisdom. (That's the pitch anyhow, because the Damian we meet is a ball-breaking real-estate mogul, and the world doesn't need those guys reborn in perpetuity.)

Old Damian signs up and emerges as a beefy younger Damian (Ryan Reynolds). Everything is super, until Damian starts getting weird "bleed-throughs" from the donor brain: scenes of Middle East combat, a family, a water tower shaped like a pumpkin. This leads him to investigate, which leads him — and this film — into a rather lifeless (life/less), by-the-numbers chase actioner. It's a shame, because I'd hoped for a more provocative thriller, with some exploration of the essence of self, mind-and-body connections, bio-ethics, God-playing, the literal life advantages available only to the rich ... None of this really comes up; instead, young Damian just instantly becomes a better, different person than old Damian, and the whole affair becomes a hack actioner interlaced with "family matters" sentimentality. Not sure how the director of such visually arresting films as The Fall and The Cell turned in something this dull, but maybe he got his brain swapped out.

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