From Titanic to Downsizing: How American fantasies have shrunk

Oh, how we've changed in the last two decades

Titanic, James Cameron's epic film about the massiveness of boats, luxury, hubris, and teen love, celebrates its 20-year anniversary today. This weekend will also see the premiere of Downsizing, Alexander Payne's sci-fi comedy about a world in which Americans who want a better life will literally shrink themselves down in order to get it.

The contrast is telling. Titanic was in part about how technological progress metastasizes into a tribute to greed and luxury doomed by virtue of its mammoth size. Downsizing is about how a technology intended to help save the world by shrinking human consumers (so they're a mere five inches tall) turned into the ultimate explosion in consumerism. Both films deal with luxury's inherent problem: that you need an underclass to power it and a coercive system that forces them aboard. And both ask the same basic question: What parts of yourself will you sacrifice in order to feel rich?

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