It might not be fashionable to criticise scientists at the moment, but I’ve long held the view that eventually they will go one step too far with their messing around with things and do some real damage to the world we inhabit. It might have happened when the first atomic bomb was tested, despite one of the scientists involved warning of a risk of igniting the entire atmosphere of the planet. It might have happened with the creation of biological agents for warfare, or the high-speed collision of particles. Mercifully, the chance of this kind of tinkering with nature leading to an apocalypse is remote, but the threat posed by people trying to play god has captured the imagination of writers for a very long time. Patema Inverted shows us a fascinating vision of the future, where scientists have finally gone too far.
In the year 2067 we are shown an experiment going wrong. Gravity is inverted by accident, and everything starts flying away from the planet, with even buildings being broken and drawn up into the sky. It’s a stunning visual to start the film. The question of how the human race could have survived that disaster is answered when we fast forward into the future and find that a civilisation is living underground, and these people have apparently had their own gravity inverted. When a girl called Patema falls through a shaft which leads down to the surface of the planet, she is in danger of falling upwards into the sky, but is saved by Eiji, who is living on the surface. His gravity is opposite to hers, so their weights counterbalance. As he is slightly heavier than Patema, he can walk holding on to her, with Patema upside down, and he is able to get her to the safety of a barn, where she can rest inside on the ceiling.
So this film immediately demands our full concentration. It’s not an easy idea to get your head around, and it’s an idea that’s full of wonderment and fear. The picture regularly inverts throughout the film to show the perspective of whoever is effectively living in an upside down world, and the prospect of falling into the sky forever is clearly terrifying. The sight of Patema crouched on the edge of the barn roof, looking down into the sky, is an amazing thing to see, and you can understand how overwhelming that is to her.
As the film progresses the two teenagers discover more and more about the very separate worlds they inhabit. Society is strictly divided into the two different types of gravity, and this has changed over the years from something practical to all-consuming xenophobia towards those who live the opposite life, the “inverts”. Together, Eiji and Patema break down those barriers by learning to trust each other. They have to do that to survive, because as long as they are together and finding out about each other’s worlds, one of them is always reliant on the other to survive. The metaphorical barriers between them are broken down in a very literal way, inevitably leading to a romantic attraction as well, and their increasing trust for each other is represented through the film by the way they hold onto each other to be able to move around, starting off by just holding hands or arms with Patema’s legs being pulled upwards (downwards) by her gravity into the sky, and then eventually progressing to a total trust and comfort with each other, with one of them hanging on by hugging the other’s waist. This is part of a bigger story, with two societies at odds with each other learning that they need not see each other as the enemy.
There are barriers to that understanding, though. Not everyone wants to see the two societies united in any way, or even communicating with each other, and some dangerous people are out to get Patema and remove the threat of “inverts” from their world. Also adding to the complexity of the story are mysteries surrounding Patema’s and Eiji’s parents. There are some huge twists along the way, which keep undermining everything you thought you understood about the societies we are watching, and you will need to keep paying attention to understand what’s going on. Just when you think you understand the nature of the world you have been watching, something you thought was real turns out to be a fake, and then there’s a massive twist at the end which forces us to rethink everything once again. It’s a remarkably clever film, and candy for the mind in the best possible way. This is a film that really illustrates what a remarkable and important genre anime is, able to tell a story like this with mind-blowing visual imagery that would be virtually impossible in any other medium. To really do this justice as live action would have been beyond the realms of technology a few years ago, and even now would probably require the biggest budget of any film ever made. But I don’t think we need to see that happen. Patema Inverted is a beautiful film, which makes you think and makes you care. If you’re not a fan of anime films, try this one. It might just turn your world upside down. RP