Tarsem Singh is no stranger to stories involving the consciousness and its state within the mind, having done something similar in his 2000 movie The Cell. Now with Self/Less, he’s exploring more than just consciousness, but the sense of self in regards to your mind and body with decent, but not fantastic results.
Damian (Ben Kingsley), a wealthy architect suffering with the final stages of cancer, is clinging to his last moments in life and heavily contemplating something dangerous: shedding. A procedure that would transfer Damian’s mind to another body, Albright (Matthew Goode) assures him that this his only chance to stay alive and to toy with mortality.
Unable to tell even his best friend Martin (Victor Garber) and estranged daughter Claire (Michelle Dockery), Damian is transferred into the body of the young and healthy Ryan Reynolds. At first, everything is fantastic. No allergies, no cancer, Damian is youthful and living it up as much as he can with the money he set aside for this procedure. But of course the mind transfer comes at a cost when Damian begins to remember a life that isn’t his, the memories of a woman (Natalie Martinez) and her daughter (Jaynee-Lynne Kinchen) assaulting his mind and putting them all in danger.
Ryan Reynolds seems to be bouncing back well from the dip his career took a few years ago. He’s taken on roles that are more meaty and challenging, with more opportunities to show us what he’s capable of. And in the role of Damian, he most certainly does show us that he’s capable of bringing the light charming persona coupled with severity of his character’s situation. Also lovely in her role is Natalie Martinez (End of Watch), who exudes vulnerability and terror in her portrayal of Madeline. Victor Garber’s role is not a major one, but with the time he has, he gives us an on-the-fence character who is at first confident in his decisions before letting doubt and remorse factor into his thoughts in regards to the consequences of his actions. Ben Kingsley has more of a minor role, but we get an immediate sense of self with the time he’s allotted.
There are a lot of morality questions raised in the film and Singh touches on them a bit. What are the consequences when we take immortality into our own hands? What defines the self and are one’s selfish needs winners over the act of selflessness? For sure, there are interesting conversations to be had, much like in other films with similar ideas. Singh, however, steers this film more towards the thriller side of things. It has action, a suspenseful turning point, and the will he, won’t he question about the main character’s ultimate decision.
The film, while it keeps its central idea about choosing one person’s life over another and the consequences of the mind transfer procedure, quickly becomes a chase film a quarter of the way through and never lets up. So while it has several thought-provoking notions and is an ultimately enjoyable watch with good performances, hopes were that Singh would have steered more into the moral and consequential questions instead of using the plot to help drive the action.