2011’s In Time wasn’t probably the most original science-fiction movie because it drew inspiration from Tales of Tomorrow and The Price of Life. It was famously hit with a copyright lawsuit because of its similarity with Harlan Ellison’s ‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said The Ticktockman. That said, in addition to maybe Logan’s Run, it was one of the few feature-length films that dealt with the concept of time as currency. People in this dystopian future would age until they were 25 and then try to ensure their survival within the span of one year by earning their life expectancy. The rich were shown to have nearly unlimited amounts of time, thereby giving them immortality, while the working class had to work to get that time, which they’d find difficult to preserve due to inflation. It featured some decent performances (especially from Cillian Murphy), cinematography, world-building, and action. But overall, it failed to be memorable. Given its proximity to the concept, Paradise had every opportunity to be something substantial. Yet it makes the same mistakes as the Andrew Niccol film.
Directed and co-written by Boris Kunz, along with co-writers Peter Kocyla and Simon Amberger, Paradise tells the story of the couple, Max and Elena, who are living in a dystopian future where time is money. Max is essentially a kind of insurance agent for a company called AEON, where he goes to the needy to convince them to sell a few years of their lives in exchange for the money that they need. The “years” that they spend are put up for donation, and when the DNA matches up with that of the one buying those “years” to extend their lifetime, it’s transferred to the buyer. The concept is sold by the CEO of AEON, Sophie Theissen, as a way to allow geniuses to reach their full potential instead of being dictated by the limitations of aging. Elena is a nurse. She is in a healthy relationship with Max. They want to have kids and grow old together in an organic way. However, when their house burns down, they find themselves staring at a huge amount of debt. And since Elena had put up her “years” as collateral, she has to give away 40 years of her life to the bank. That’s when Max realizes that the corporation he has been working for is not only inhumane towards the common folk but their employees as well.
As mentioned before, the depth of Paradise’s writing doesn’t go beyond “the rich people are bad, and the poor are being exploited” messages. One can say that given how economic inequality is increasing with each passing second, it’s necessary to keep things as blunt as possible because there’s just no room for subtlety. And I will agree with that sentiment. Things are actually so bleak that it’s pointless to layer your narrative with nuanced critiques of modern society because if real life can’t motivate people to rise up against oppression, what is a movie going to do? There’s a palpable sensation of helplessness and voluntary resignation to the fact that we are sinking as a civilization all around the globe, and that is aptly reflected in Max and Elena’s journey. However, my issue is that, before the aforementioned realization sets in among the characters, the film does try to drum up a sense of urgency to reverse Elena’s aging but doesn’t deliver on it. If you fail to live up to the expectations you are setting, then that’s bad writing.
Given the nature of the plot of Paradise, there is a ticking time bomb aspect to it that is triggered by Max’s desperate attempt to seek justice for Elena. The people working for Sophie, led by Kaya and Viktor, are rushing to get a hold of Elena and Max. And then there’s a radical group named Adam that is also out to kidnap Elena and Max for reasons that they consider righteous. But after a certain point, the plot seems to get less and less concerned with getting to the end or generating any kind of tension because of the proverbial tightening of the noose around Max and Elena’s necks. The thing is, if that was the whole point—Max and Elena’s realization that they don’t have to go through with this complicated procedure to reverse what has been taken from them—I would’ve been okay with it. However, since it keeps dragging its feet all the way to the end, the film’s indecisiveness to be a slow-burn race-to-the-finish or a nail-biting race-to-the-finish becomes evident. The shallow characterizations and the boring dialogue don’t help either. There are only so many times you can indicate the chemistry between two characters by reminding each other, as well as the audience, that age isn’t a number unless you can do the devil’s tango.
As for what Paradise is doing visually, there is a lot of competent world-building. A lot of invisible VFX and CGI are at play, thereby giving it that dystopian and futuristic feel. The costume designs are noticeable and interesting. Usually, sci-fi films go a little too far when they have to portray a not-so-distant future and make it impractical. But you can totally see people in Berlin wearing the stuff that these characters are wearing. Sound design plays a big part in sci-fi films because most of them have to create a new array of sounds for the devices that are being used on screen, the vehicles, and more. The muted color palette initially seems like a purposeful choice to complement the dark themes of the film. However, when it starts to look muddy and incomprehensible, it feels like Boris Kunz and cinematographer Christian Stangassinger didn’t think it through, thereby making the film an ugly affair. The film does crescendo with one big action set piece, with a shot of Max running that is made to look like it is devoid of cuts. There are some impressive explosions and stunt work. Sadly, due to the dip in quality in terms of sound design and lighting, those moments fail to make an impact.
The performances from the entire cast of Paradise are flawless. Kostja Ullmann disappears into his role, and the only thing that you can see is an anxiety-ridden man doing everything that is in his power to help the woman he loves so passionately. Even when he’s doing something as simple as pointing a gun at someone’s head, you know that he doesn’t have any malice in his heart. Kostja ensures that the audience knows that Max is a victim of the brand of fascism that he himself has enabled. Even though Corinna Kirchhoff does a lot of the heavy lifting to bring the character of Elena to life, Marlene Tanzcik deserves appreciation for laying the foundations. If she hadn’t established Elena’s internal strife and her dreams, it would’ve been a little difficult to buy into Corinna’s act. That said, Corinna is the heart and soul of the film because it’s her life that is at stake, and she does a good job of conveying that aspect of the story. Lorna Ishema and Numan Acar seem pretty generic at first. But as they begin to flirt with each other, they turn out to be complex individuals who are struggling to separate their morals from the requirements of the job. Lisa-Marie Koroll and Iris Berben are fantastic, and I’ve got to stop there, or else I’ll be wading into spoiler-filled territory.
In conclusion, Paradise is an average film with nothing new to say about the topics that it has chosen to talk about. The performances and the world-building are good enough to keep you engaged. When things wrap up, and the film throws a sequel-bait ending at us, I think the biggest takeaways will be to respect the time we have and that humans should not meddle with the process of aging. But isn’t that something we do anyway? I advise you to pair it up with In Time as a double feature because their plot mechanics and usage of time are similar. I cannot guarantee it will be a particularly stimulating viewing experience because both of them meander quite a bit. That said, what you have read is just my opinion. Please watch Paradise on Netflix, form your own opinion, and let us know what you think about it.