If future technology would make it possible, would you sell years of your life to make living easier for yourself and those you care about?
This is the synopsis of the German movie “Paradise”, a sci-fi thriller that managed to take a good idea and turn it into cinematic mush in a little under two on-screen hours.
Although it’s painful to watch since it’s slow, leaves core issues unaddressed or underdeveloped, and focuses on simple matters related to otherwise significant social issues that may arise from the use of such technology, the movie does provide some food for thought and facilitates the analysis of the phenomenon it centers on.
- SPOILERS AHEAD •
“Paradise” follows main characters Max and Elena, husband and wife, as they fight AEON, a powerful corporation that employs a new technology that allows humans to transfer years of their life to rich beneficiaries, in exchange for money. When their luxury apartment is completely destroyed by a fire, Elena is forced to give up 38 years to pay the couple’s insurance debt. Max is determined to get those years and their life as a young family back, somehow. Moderate action ensues.
From the superficial take on its core subject – the life-transfer technology and the social rifts and inequalities it creates between the rich and the poor, to the unsatisfactory way it addressed even the simple debt issue and justice-chasing theme, “Paradise” hits all the wrong notes. I will address several of them next.
There is no justice to be restored. The characters simply made a bad decision.
While watching the movie, we are led to believe that Max and Elena are the victims of AEON’s predatorial techniques and policies. But are they?
The debt is linked to the high price of their apartment, a house they couldn’t afford in the first place. The insurance terms regarding Elena’s collateral, the 38 years of her life, is a bit of contract that she signed willingly, and did not share the information with Max.
Sure, AEON and its CEO, villain Sophie Theissen, did set the apartment on fire to trigger this part of the deal, but the terms were agreed upon by both parties. The debt-collecting is simply a consequence of a poor decision.
And speaking of poor decisions, Max and Elena seem to mainly prefer those.
It is difficult to root for characters that are manipulative and, frankly, quite stupid.
Before deciding that AEON and Theissen are the bad guys, Max worked for them and was the company’s rising star. Employee of the year, Max was the broker who would convince poor, young, healthy individuals, to donate years of their life to AEON’s youth serum bank. He is a manipulator, working for an abusive company. Greedy, as well.
Both he and Elena aspire to a luxurious lifestyle and use the money they get mainly from Max’s gig to buy things they do not afford and do not need – example: a bigger house, when they already had to borrow money to buy the present apartment. And then there’s her side deal regarding the collateral. It’s a bad deal, the kind of deal that only individuals with a high level of narcissism and a rather low level of intelligence would enter.
I see this context as similar to poor individuals who invest everything they have into crypto and hope they’ll end up with a Lambo in a matter of days. Max’s job is not different from that of brokers and representatives involved with multi-level marketing schemes – they need charismatic, stupid, easy-to-manipulate individuals to convince even poorer and more desperate-for-money people to buy into their scam. And it’s only the ones at the top who win.
Not to mention that Max’s low intelligence is also proved by the fact that he kidnaps the wrong individual when attempting to get Elena’s years back from Sophie Theissen, who was the direct beneficiary of the 38 years. You’d think that for someone familiar with the effects of the technology AEON was using, he would at least know not to kidnap Sophie’s daughter instead of her. Well, he didn’t know.
Not just greedy and stupid. Evil, too.
Throughout the movie, it seems that Max and Elena switch places, by being stupid or evil in turns.
In the beginning, Max is the guy doing AEON’s dirty job – convincing unexpecting victims to sell years of their life to the company. It takes a special kind of individual to miss the immoral aspect of this job. Then he is also willing to kidnap an individual to get back what was no longer his and Elena’s – the 38 years. And to make it happen, he decides to go take care of it all through the Black Market – that somehow had specialists and serums to complete the procedure in random vans. Yeah, I got the hint related to organ trafficking but the element simply makes no sense in the movie.
Anyway, when he’s being evil and manipulative, Elena seems to struggle with the moral implications of their goal and initially manifests empathy toward Sophie’s daughter, Marie, mistakenly kidnapped by her and Max. She is not OK with punishing the daughter for the mother’s actions, with taking the years by force from Marie instead.
Well, that didn’t last long. Once Marie’s youth becomes Elena’s only chance to get her life back, together with the possibility to become a mother, her principles are thrown out the window and she decides to fulfill the goal alone, and even give up Max in the process. Like I said before, these two take turns being stupid and evil, so if she’s doing the wrong thing, he’s finally doing the right one. So, they end up separated.
Elena takes Marie’s youth and marries someone else. We see her pregnant at the end of the movie.
Max is in his “not evil” stage but unfortunately, he’s also stuck with “stupid” toward the story’s finale. He joins a group of so-called activists fighting AEON’s tyranny by killing the receivers of the youth serum. Smart, right? Human rights activists killing others in the name of justice. Told you he’s still in the “stupid” phase.
What is sad is that the movie makers wanted us to believe he is the good guy, ultimately. No, he is not.
Manipulation and betrayal.
These are the connectors in the movie. It’s what most relationships are made of in the world of “Paradise”.
AEON manipulates its employees and the public. AEON’s employees manipulate the desperate and poor.
Husband manipulates wife by bringing her into his immoral world and presenting it as glamorous or restorative; wife manipulates husband by making side-deals without his knowledge and by dumping him once he’s no longer of use to her.
Husband and wife manipulate public perception, including that of their families, by presenting themselves and their lifestyle as something that it is not.
Mother, Sophie, betrays child, Marie, by choosing her youth and wellbeing over the daughter’s wellbeing and health – Sophie does not offer to give Marie her years back herself but instead assures her that she will look for a donor instead.
Sophie also uses other people’s years to bribe employees and other loyal subjects.
Yeah, it’s an ugly world that one.
Voices of reason.
Only two characters seem to act in ways guided by common sense, humanity, and even integrity.
Elena’s dad is the one who opposes the whole business proposed by AEON and supported by Max and Elena, while Sophie’s main bodyguard, Kaya, is the one who decides to leave the toxic environment created by AEON’s CEO, in spite of all the perks she received for her service.
The only merit of “Paradise”.
There is some value in watching this movie, even if it’s not linked to its core subject. The only merit of “Paradise” is that it shows us, once again, what kind of individuals would engage in activities that bring about dystopian scenarios.
You need the greedy and sociopathic to start it, and the greedy and stupid to keep the ball rolling and make things happen for those at the top of the corporate chain.
Watch the movie if you’re a fan of dystopian worlds but tame your expectations and do your own analysis of the things presented on screen. You’ll donate two hours of your life to the creators of the film but to some extent, it might be worth it.