If I had one criticism of the film, it is that it is not aggressive enough,” says Christoph Waltz of his new movie, Downsizing – an environmentally-woke satire about people who shrink themselves to save Earth from the scourge of overpopulation. “That’s good for the film – people don’t want to be hit over the head with a message the whole time – but if anything, it doesn’t hammer the point home enough.”
Waltz plays a wisecracking bon-viveur bootlegger alongside the film’s star, Matt Damon – a washed-out everyman who agrees to ‘downsize’ because it’ll a) reduce his carbon footprint, and b) turn his $52k bank account into $12.5m (your dollar goes a lot further when you’re tiny). Complications, physical and emotional, ensue against the ever-looming backdrop of how well and truly screwed we all are.
Like maggots on a mouldy apple, we are eating away at the planet that sustains us (only we won’t be able to metamorphosise and fly off when we’re done). Our climate is in meltdown, natural habitats are disintegrating, species are dying, Venice is sinking and it’s surely a matter of time before we run out of names to call hurricanes. Our world is decaying, and it’s all because of us. “I’m very much aware of the global catastrophe that is slowly unfolding before our very eyes,” says Waltz. “And I believe that human ignorance is ultimately to blame.”
The 61-year-old Austrian actor is more articulate and erudite than most Hollywood stars. And his English is better, too. So we asked him to tell us about the fundamental flaws of humanity that he believes are leading us to self-annihilation. “That depends,” he says. “Would you be OK to suffer through it?”
1. Self-destructive ignorance
“Of course, arguments about climate change are nothing new. But ignorance, in that respect, is nothing new either. That’s because ignorance, I believe, is a force that cannot be defeated. For some odd reason, too many powerful people – some who even claim to be educated – still think concern about the environment is an optional belief, like religion or evolution. They see it as something you can choose to either believe in or not.
“People say, ‘I don’t believe in global warming.’ Well, my answer to those people is: don’t believe in it, then. Who cares what your beliefs are? Just open your eyes and ears and go with the evidence for a change, and then you might see how much your so-called belief matters. It doesn’t.
“I’m baffled as to why the world gets together and says, hypocritically, but at least it is an acknowledgment, ‘We have to do something. It’s one world, can we get together and try to at least delay the catastrophe?’
Well, no. Wilful ignorance beats it all.
“This kind of ignorance soon leads to all kinds of related problems: self-importance, arrogance, bad will and insane profit-taking. Never mind that people can’t breathe, that they don’t have enough water to drink. Never mind that storms destroy whole cities in an afternoon. ‘We don’t believe in this because we believe in making money,’ these people say. Does that really equate to an acceptable outcome?”
“Downsizing isn’t just about shrinking physically to reduce your carbon footprint. Take that word on your palate for a moment and consider what needs to be downsized before you start talking about its beneficial effects.
“I’m talking about hyperbole, ego, megalomania, inflated self-assurance and indulgence. It all comes down to a global predilection for profit-taking that has completely spun out of control and fallen out of any decent context or meaningful feeling. It’s all about the obscene profit-taking of a minuscule minority. Never mind the wellbeing of the billions of people that populate the rest of the world. As long as a select few can satisfy their megalomaniacal greed, everything is OK.
“You might think I’m referring to a certain world leader. But, honestly, I’m not even talking about Trump. Trump, in my estimation, is the unfortunate and lamentable and regrettable and despicable product of a development that allowed him to become president of what used to be the United States of America. All roads lead back to money.
“One thing I keep childishly and naively asking myself is: if it can so easily be abused, why can’t it be used for something beneficial to all? Why, if it really represents a value, can we not attach a value of benefit to it? Why does money have to be charged with everything that actually brings down this world? It makes no difference if it’s called dollar or Bitcoin or Pork Belly or whatever, it is becoming increasingly as abstract as the idea of it really is.”
3. Turning happiness into a commodity
“Downsizing broadly tackles two major themes of modern times: the destruction of the planet and man’s desperate search for happiness in an increasingly fast-paced, disconnected world. The latter has become an issue because I think the concept of happiness has become a tool of the exploiters.
“The form of happiness being peddled now in every cheap perfume commercial has nothing to do with real happiness. To keep markets lucrative, companies must persuade us to be dissatisfied with what we have. ‘To be truly happy, or sexy, or beautiful, you need this product,’ we are constantly told.
“But 99 per cent of the time we don’t actually need whatever it is they’re selling. In my modest little interpretation, the type of happiness the authors of the US Declaration of Independence had in mind when they referred to the inalienable right to ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness’ was an enlightened form. But the money-making machine quickly turned the idea of happiness into something you can just buy. You can’t. And that ultimately makes true happiness – you might also call it spiritual or philosophical enlightenment – a very difficult thing to find.”
4. The weaponisation of fear
“As soon as you have more than one kind human there will be someone who finds it suitable to drive a wedge in between. This is one of the things that I don’t get in America – I still haven’t wrapped my mind around that dichotomy. They call it dualism.
“In Europe, we’re used to dealing with shades in between people, albeit less and less so. But in America, it’s the cowboy with the white hat or the cowboy with the black hat. It’s good or bad. It’s rich or poor. It’s cool or stuffy. For some odd reason, they are into the elimination game rather than the conciliation game.
“It is all about fear as a tool to control people. We are told by politicians and certain media that we must fear those who are different.
“The problem is: how do we create a world where differences are beneficial to everyone? It has to be education. We need to be taught that humankind is one kind.
“But the vehemence with which that gets undermined [by government policy] makes it almost impossible not to believe in a devious plan. I’m not suggesting there is a conspiracy, but a devious plan. The more stupid people we have, the better we can squeeze them like lemons. It makes them easier to control.”
5. Grotesque narcissism
“The human race is seemingly able to rationalise whatever it wants to believe. We believe we are highly intelligent in a narcissistic way, without realising how stupid we actually are. We are hurtling headlong towards the destruction of our only planet, and we are doing next to nothing to prevent it.
“We are the most self-indulgent species on Earth, that is, according to our parameters. I mean, has anyone ever asked the crow on the roof if he or she feels the same as us about the world? I’m not so sure.
“Narcissism is a psychological disorder that lives in all of us. It has something to do with the fear of being extinguished. If you look at narcissism from a clinical point of view, there’s more to it than megalomaniac assholes. But there is a certain amount of narcissism in every one of us.
“As we live in, and are introduced to, this increasingly fucked-up world, narcissism becomes more and more of a problem. And that is more or less logical. Exploitation of all kinds – from corruption and bullying to imperialism, colonialism, racism and war – has narcissism at its heart.”
Downsizing is at cinemas nationwide from 24 January