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A review of the premise of "What Happened to Monday"

What Happened to Monday is another entry in Netflix's catalog of quirky, quasi-alternative programming.  It's a dark science-fiction drama about a dystopian world plagued by overpopulation.  To combat the rising number of humans, a world government has instilled a draconian "one child only" law for all parents. This means that an unlikely group of septuplets, named for each day of the week and all played by Noomi Rapace, has to share a singular identity when interfacing with the public.

Now, let me be as clear and positive as I can up front.  This is not a bad movie in the broad sense of the term.  The acting is pretty good.  Rapace does a terrific job, Willem Dafoe is good as her grandfather (playing that delicate balance of "psychopath" and "pitiful" that he's oh-so-good at), and the actress who plays seven versions of Rapace's younger selves, Clara Read, is fantastic.  It's filmed and edited beautifully, with a lot of crisp shots and a good use of props, extras, and staging to make the world feel as big and terrifying as the premise wants you to believe.

I'd love to tell you that it's a solid winner, much like Okja, the last dark science-fiction Netflix original I reviewed.  But I can't do that, because the premise is, well... stupid.  Irredeemably stupid.

It's not the part where there are seven girls who have to pretend to be one person that's stupid - no, that part is solid.  That's the most interesting thing about the movie.  It's everything else that's stupid.

Start with the overpopulation threat.  What a bad idea for a movie.  There's two ways you can go with it: the bullshit way or the realistic way.  This movie chooses the bullshit way, which time has constantly proven wrong - we know from experience that this nightmare vision of the world won't come true.  There have always been doomsayers - fifty years ago, when the population was at a mere three billion, or a hundred years ago, when it was just under two billion, or back in the industrial explosion of the 1800s when we finally cracked that first billion.  And they're all wrong, because as more people are born, natural forces go into work to bring our numbers back to a manageable level - either through starvation, the worst-case scenario, or through more modest factors like a natural preference to have fewer kids.  Check out a data bank on the birth rate (not population) and you'll see exactly that.  Add to that the additional workforce and technological development that a surge in population will bring, and you end up producing more food and homes.

Fear of overpopulation always seems to be driven by huffy assholes - usually upper class white guys -  with no actual reason to be afraid of hunger.  It often seems to be a bullshit rationale used to deliver a deeper dose of armchair xenophobia.  "Ugh, I don't want my kids to go hungry just because those people keep breeding like rabbits!"  Which brings me to the actual way you can depict overpopulation: you show how it works at a regional level instead of a global one.

Actual overpopulation is always a localized thing, and it isn't a simple matter of "people have too many babies."  There's more to it - extraneous factors like class exploitation and international callousness.  The problem isn't the people, it's all the bullshit that stops them from getting fed.  You really want that movie?  You'd have to set it in some third-world African country where a lack of political stability, infrastructure, and technology has led to widespread generational poverty and hunger.   You'd have lots of repressed people of color with no hope because their nations have been leeched for ages by richer people in other countries who have the time and resources to sit around making science-fiction movies about how scary it would be if they couldn't eat a big dinner.

But now I'm rambling.  The point is, actual overpopulation simply won't happen in a global, apocalyptic way.  So, it's inherently a cheat to give us that kind of movie set in a metropolis with stable, financially secure white people - especially when said white people get to eat a meal made of actual meat at one point.  (Sure, it's rat meat, but if everybody's starving, that would be like filet mignon, wouldn't it?)  Right off the bat, I'm having a hard time empathizing with the supposed plight of the world.

But then the movie gets even dumber - it assumes we'll gravitate toward a single, global government as part of a legislative solution, and consequently the world will accept and submit to a single-child-per-couple rule.  What?  In what idiot's vision of the world could that ever happen?  And then WHtM further introduces the idea of a worldwide cryo-sleep bank where accidental siblings are put into perpetual comas until the population drops again.  And to monitor everybody else and make sure nobody's slipping by, all the rest of the kids in the world are fitted with wristwatch-like ID bands that the authorities constantly scan, and if they're in the clear, then the authorities' computers will blip a little message that says "ONLY CHILD."


Look, this is all just really, really stuipd.  Even ignoring the implausibility of all of it, the solutions provided are the dumbest possible answer to the problem.  Cryo-sleep?  Really?  If you could believe that oopsie kids would get frozen, then that means you believe the government is able to spend trillions of dollars maintaining a convoluted kid storage system instead of investing that money into farming technology and development.  (Mild spoilers, but you should be able to guess.)  Naturally, it turns out the cryo-sleep is just a cover for dumping those extra kids into a Future Furnace, but all of this goes back to the main question: Why?

Why do any of this?  You're a doomsday government - why do you care if people hate your controversial policies?  Just round people up and kill them.  The Nazis weren't too precious about their concentration camps.  And come to think of it - why even go straight to murder?  Why not pass out free condoms?  Why not give tax breaks if you move to a less crowded part of the world and start your own farm?  Or if you insist on being evil - what about forced sterilization or death by lottery or involuntary cannibalism?  There are so many simpler solutions, good and evil, than "make up some bullshit about cryogenics and carry out a global conspiracy to cover up our secret labs where we strap kids into crazy over-the-top incineration chambers."

It's par for the course.  WHtM prides itself on overblown reactions.  There's one part where, in flashback, we see that one of the seven kids got into an accident that cut off her finger.  Their grandfather gets out a butcher knife and says, "What happens to one of you has to happen to all of you."  But... why?  Why not just tell the girl who cut her finger off, "Sorry, but you can't go out anymore?"  Or just make her wear gloves?  Isn't that easier and less risky than performing amateur surgery six fucking times in your apartment?  What happens if you screw it up and give one of those kids sepsis?  Now you've got a dead body on your hands.  Great job, idiot.

All of this is a long, long way of me saying: this movie should've been a comedy.

Look, I can buy into your bloated, silly nonsense if you're building up a deeper philosophical metaphor, if all of the doomsday stuff is just an exaggeration to make a bigger point about our world.  But WHtM doesn't have anything to say that isn't already blindingly obvious.  "What, you mean we shouldn't kill our kids?  I had no idea.  Thanks, I was about to make a horrible mistake."  So we end up with this incredibly dumb movie that takes itself soooooooo seriously.  Wallowing in the severity of fictional misery is of no benefit when we can apply none of its lessons.

So instead of being so dark and gritty, why not just have fun with it?  Be irreverent.  Keep the over-the-top action scenes - like the part where Rapace cuts off a bad guy's finger and straps it to her own in order to operate a fingerprint-protected machine gun - and just play everything else up for laughs.

When WHtM goes into action movie mode, it's fun and exciting and a total joy.  When you see the mechanics of how the septuplets work together and figure out how to live as one person, it's interesting.  When it tries to be funny, it's funny.  But any time it thinks it's making a point, I just get aggravated.  Enough to go on a 1,000 word rant about it on my blog, apparently.

My Rating: 3 / 5