Thursday, August 22, 2013

Elysium (2013)

Title: Elysium (2013)

Director: Neil Blomkamp

Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, William Fichtner, Alice Braga, Sharlto Copley, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura

Elysium comes to us from director Neil Blomkamp, the guy behind the critically acclaimed box office hit District 9 (2009), a fantastic film in my book because it speaks about racial differences and the need for different races to show empathy towards one another. In that film, aliens arrive on earth and are initially welcomed by humanity, but after a few years, that welcome wears off and transforms to xenophobia. It isn’t long before the aliens are segregated and end up living in these refugee camps that have turned into ghettos. The main character of the film is a human immigration officer named Wikus, a man who has been appointed the task of giving the aliens eviction notices that let them know they are now being relocated. One thing leads to another and Wikus ends up turning into an alien. He quickly learns what it means to be persecuted, he feels the unfair treatment; he gets to understand what being on the other side is all about. Blomkamp figures that the best way to know what racism feels like is by experiencing it yourself, which is what is so brilliant about District 9, you feel racism first hand, you feel it’s happening to you. Racism is something humanity has yet to outgrow; Blomkamp knows it and wants you to experience it. On Disctrict 9 the main character is part of an oppressing force in society, but then he becomes the oppressed, he becomes the one that’s persecuted, he suddenly knows what it means to be on the other side of the equation. And that was just Blomkamp’s first film! District 9 made such an impact that the film was nominated for four academy awards including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay, something of a rarity for science fiction films. So of course he was going to move up in the film world, of course we were going to see another film by him. So here comes Elysium, Blomkamp’s sophomore effort, his second film. How was it?

On Elysium the world as we know it has gone to shit, essentially, earth is one giant dumpster, the poor live down here on earth, while the rich and privileged live on a gigantic spaceship hovering close to earth called ‘Elysium’. The story revolves around Max, a blue collar worker who ends up having a horrible work related accident and is suddenly faced with the fact that he only has five days to live! What can he do in order to survive? Well, if you were rich and lived on Elysium you’d simply get inside something called a ‘Med-Pod’ and cure yourself, but that’s only if you live in Elysium, if not, then you die because you are not one of the privileged, you my friend are scum. But what if there was a way to make these machines available to everyone? What if someone could infiltrate Elysium, reboot the whole system so that everyone can benefit from these Med-pod’s? This becomes Max’s mission, for he is not about to die any time soon!

First thing I noticed right away was how similar Elysium is to District 9 in terms of themes. This film is also about one group of people being neglected and oppressed by others. The whole thing with the rebels trying to get into Elysium felt a heck of a lot like Mexicans trying to cross the American border, so in that sense, it is also felt like it was addressing racial issues. The difference between both films is that while District 9 presented us with themes of xenophobia and racism, Elysium focuses more on themes of classism. But then again, class issues and racial issues function in the same ways, so yeah, the films are very similar in this way. We’re basically talking about one group of humans thinking they are superior to another which is kind of disgusting because we’re all humans on this spaceship called earth, so what’s the point? Why do some humans feel the need to bring others down? I personally find the idea repulsive and nauseating, as should every one of you out there my friends. We should aim to help each other, not exploit each other. So I immediately found the themes in Elysium fascinating because they speak of the world we live in today. After the success of Elysium, Blomkamp said that he’s been asked about how he sees the future, how he thinks the world will be and his answer was that the film isn’t so much about the future, that it’s about the world as it is NOW, which is a fantastic reply. This lets us know that Elysium is the best kind of sci-fi, it’s the kind that reflects society, it holds a mirror to it.

I mean, wouldn’t it be better if those that achieved success and wealth in the world used that power for the good of all humanity as opposed to propelling a society that is built on the idea of exploiting those less fortunate? This is what happens in the world today, and it’s just another form of slavery if you ask me. We don’t have people putting literal chains on others, but there’s symbolic chains, you know what I mean? The way society is constructed benefits the wealthy and ignores the poor. One of example of this are the roads in my country of Puerto Rico. You go into a rich neighborhood and you see the streets paved, the street lights illuminating every street corner, the garbage picked up, but if you go into a poor neighborhood you see streets filled with gigantic holes (because the government doesn’t pave them) you see dark streets because light posts are shut off and the streets filled with garbage because the government doesn’t bother picking up the garbage on a regular basis. So yeah, there’s a difference in the way classes are treated. Wouldn’t it be better if everyone was treated fairly? I’m talking about my country here, but I’m sure this is the same in many countries; the poor side is ignored and treated unfairly, this is why ghetto’s exist. It’s a place to dump the poor so they don’t have to live next to you.  Sad part is all those poor people pay taxes as well; their money should pay for the cleaning up of their town as well. It should be enough to light all the streets and avoid dark areas that breed criminal activity. But alas, this is the world we live in and these are the lives were living.

And so, the same can be said of medical attention, which is a major issue in Elysium. On the film the Med-Pods are these miracle machines that can cure any decease, hell, they can even bring you back to life! According to the film, you can live forever if you are a citizen of Elysium! This part of the film talks about expensive medical plans that many people cannot afford to pay and the ridiculously high priced medicines. Ever had to take a pill that costs more than 70 dollars? I know people who have. Many can’t even afford paying a medical plan; they live life frightened of getting sick or needing major medical attention. Shouldn’t medical plans be more affordable? So the situations depicted in Elysium aren’t farfetched at all, only the wealthy get the best medical attention, the poor get the worst or none at all. The poor get sick and die faster. Why are things this way? Maybe this is the kind of situation that the powerful want? For poor people to die faster? Things to think about, and so, this is the main theme of Elysium, making quality medical attention affordable to everyone! How hard can it be? The same can be applied to education which is also kept expensive so only a certain group of people can get quality higher education, this is a vicious circle from which only the wealthy can benefit from .

Visually speaking the film is impressive, I mean, Elysium itself is a wonderful creation. It’s this gigantic spaceship/city hovering in space. By the way, this idea of a giant spaceship that harbors livable space inside of it reminded me a lot of Arthur C. Clarke’s amazing novel Rendezvous with Rama.  Anybody read that one? It’s one of my favorites of Clarke’s and basically, it’s about this gigantic spaceship that one day parks itself next to earth. The government then organizes a search party to enter it. They discover that inside of the ship there is a habitat, including a city, an ocean, artificial sunlight and plants…basically the same idea we see in Elysium. I’m thinking Blomkamp maybe read Randezvouz with Rama and was a bit inspired by it. Though the idea of spaceships with habitats inside of them is nothing new, I mean, this premise was also explored in Disney’s The Black Hole (1979), only in a far cheesier fashion. These similarities with Clarke’s novel got me thinking that Blomkamp would be the perfect director for a Rendezvous with Rama adaptation. By the way, Elysium also has elements from George Orwell’s 1984, and George Lucas’s THX-1138 (1971), especially when it comes to the whole thing with Max working in a robot factory, and the whole thing with the robotic police force. It also shares similarities with Johnny Mnemonic (1995).

An amazing cast brings this one to life, Matt Damon is great as Max, he pumped up for the part and looks like a tank for it. Jodie Foster is effectively icy as Delacourt, the person in charge of running Elysium. She's a nice lady to her rich costumers, the people of Elysium, but an icy cold bitch to those who want to try and enter into her special private little kingdom, kind of like the governments of the world who only cater to the wealthy. Sharlto Copley, the actor who played Wikus on District 9 reunites with Blomkamp once again. He plays Kruger, a killer/mercenary that the government hires to execute Max, interesting how the film alludes to the idea that governments sometimes rely on the help of criminals to achieve their goals. Copley really gives it his all here, dare I say he actually kind of outshines every other actor in the film.  I was also glad to see Diego Luna on this show, though he has a small part. So anyways, I’ve gone on long enough about Elysium, it’s a fantastic sci-fi film, the best kind, the kind that talks about the world we live in through its fiction. The success of the film has probably assured Blomkamp’s next film which will be called Chappie, looking forward to it. I’m happy that Blomkamp has rejected working on established science fiction properties like Star Trek or Star Wars (yup he’s gone down saying that) in order to stick to his more original stuff. What a fantastic concept, a director aiming to do something new and original, how about that?

Rating:  5 out of 5 


Mette said...

This was a pleasure to read. Not only because it's the first positive review I read on this movie - which I haven't seen - but because you made your point very clear through some interesting examples. You really make me want to watch Elysium - and read that novel!

Franco Macabro said...

Rendezvous with Rama is an amazing novel...and if you read all four of them it's a true experience, I mean, I didn't want to put these novels down, I devoured them. They really explore the ideas of how we got here and if there's something bigger than us out there.

I am actually kind of surprised that they haven't made movies out of them. I do know that Morgan Freeman has tried on many occassions to bring the film to the silver screen, but one thing or the other has hampered his attempts. I'm crossing my fingers hoping that someday it gets made though...and properly!

Glad you enjoyed the review Mette, the movie is amazing, if you like sci-fi you shall enjoy it!

Aylmer said...

Firstly, hello after a long time.

WOW. You have no idea what a relief it is to read your Elysium review. I saw it for the second time in a week last night and I absolutely LOVE it. I'm having a really hard time understanding why so many fans of D9 seem to dislike it so much. There is derision for this film scattered right across the internet, and I just don't get it.

For me to hear you comparing the division of wealth in Puerto Rico to the politics of the film without calling the film's message "ham-fisted" or "stupid" or "corny" is truly a validation of my love for this movie. Thank you.

The other side of the coin is that I come from Australia, a country of almost universal privilege and affluence (unless you are one of our indigenous citizens in which case your quality of life is almost guaranteed to be very poor). But despite the amount of wealth in this country, our politicians have bred a culture of fear and xenophobia which is directed at illegal immigrants, arriving by boat, who are legitimately seeking refugee status. With another election looming here, this is the main focus of BOTH parties yet again. It is very distressing and embarrassing for me.

So yes, it's very easy for me to look around my wealthy, clean metropolis of Sydney and feel like I am living in Elysium. A feeling reinforced by the fact that Australia is an island, so refugees seeking to come here are forced to make a very perilous journey across the ocean on completely un-seaworthy boats.

Sounds familiar doesn't it?

Finally just to address the SF elements of the film, it felt almost tailor made for me. An amalgam of Escape From NY era Carpenter and Total Recall era Verhoeven, but filtered through the completely unique SF vision of Blomkamp. The visual design of this film: future earth, Elysium and all the awesome technology is just a flawless vision of a dystopian future. And yeah, Kruger is the shit!

So thanks Francisco, as you can see your review really made my day.

Aylmer said...

Oh, forgot to mention I love Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama too. I feel privileged to have met him briefly back in 1980.

Franco Macabro said...

@Aylmer: I don't get it either, I mean, why would fans of District 9 hate this one? It's got many similarities with it, thematically, and behind the camera. Even the main actor from D9 is here, and he does a bang up job of playing the villain!

Interesting to hear about the political status of your country, once again, it proves that politicians no matter what country always seem to propagate fear as a means of control.

Personally, I hate the idea of borders in countries, and also, this idea that you can't just go into a country and that's it, no you gotta have documentation and papers and permits and's all nauseating considering borders are imaginary lines made up by man. We're all citizens of the same damn planet. You are not the first to be embarassed by your countries political where I live boy, I could tell you some stories. (or you could read them on my VIVA LA REVOLUTION series of artciles!)

Hey Aylmer, the situation in Australia sounds familiar alright. Here in Puerto Rico (which is also an island) we have the same situation, illegal immigrants coming in from Dominican Republic through our shores on boats that are not safe to travel in at all, but the desperation to escape their own country pushes them to take these huge risks, to improve their lives. Not unlike the Mexicans that risk their lives to cross over to the U.S.

I agree, the design of the film is astounding, the abandoned buildings, the piles of garbage....the Mad Max cars were a nice touch too! I also loved the spaceships in the film. One thing I noticed though, Blomkamp seems to love ships hovering above dusty ground as the dust flies heavily through the air, this image is repeated on both films.

Wow, you got to meet Clarke! He is a hero of mine, such a brilliant mind. I think that's what made his novels such fascinating reads, the guy really did look into the future, I find it so interesting that so many of his ideas actually materialized and crossed over into reality. A brilliant sci-fi writer. I wish more of his novels would get turned into movies, especially the Rama series.

But then again, so many filmmakers rip off his books!

Glad you enjoyed the reivew Aylmer you were not alone in loving this movie, then again, the movie has made kajillions so I'm sure there's tons of people out there who enjoyed it as well!

robotGEEK said...

Very nice write-up maaaan!! Surprisingly, I haven't gone to go see this one yet. I've had too much going on in my personal life to make the effort. But after reading your take on it (the first positive), I'll be sure to do that this weekend fo sho!! Keep up the great work my man!

Franco Macabro said...

Movies a solid slice of sci-fi! Hope you enjoy it.

Aylmer said...

Yes, you're right, strategic fear mongering is a powerful form of control, and seems to be everywhere these days.


In the scene in Elysium where Kruger shoots down the refugee shuttles, all I could think about was the tragedy that occurred here in 2010 when a boat of refugees hit rocks only a few meters from shore off Christmas Island. I believe over 50 men, women and children died there while people on shore looked on, unable to help. And of course this was just one isolated tragedy of many. With that in mind, that scene was quite grim for me, not just another cool space action scene.


But to more light hearted things...
Yes, the ships (and the Habitat itself) in this movie were soooooo cool. Loved how Spider's shuttles are all graffitied and sketchy. And just like D9, the weapons tech was super cool too.


I'm an old horror gorehound and the gore in this one was pretty awesome. It's a very quick shot, but Max makes short work of one of Kruger's henchmen with some kind of Rail-gun and it's pretty nasty. Also Kruger's face getting blown off and subsequent reconstruction had me grinning like a fool!


Clarke was truly amazing. One of those SF writers who was so prescient in his speculation that it's spooky. With writers like him and William Gibson, you find yourself wondering "could he actually see how the future was going to turn out, or was it his ideas that created what came to pass". A bit of both I guess.

Did you know that David Fincher had an adaptation of Rama in the works? I think it fell apart though.

Franco Macabro said...

I've heard of similar things happening to immigrants while traveling to Puerto Rico, horror stories of immigrants being eaten by the sharks on their way to Puerto Rico. But that specific scene you mention from the movie reminds me even more of the United States shooting Mexicans that try to cross the American border, that's just some awful business right there. Actually, that's freaking nauseating. It's just like the Delacourt character in Elysium. It's like she's saying "nope your not comming into my private luxurious resort" Sad.

Yeah, that facial reconstruction scene was awesome, reminded me of a similar scene in Species II (1998), the scene in which Natasha Henstridge's character gets her head blown up by a shotgun, then it reconstructs itself.

William Gibson I've tried reading Neuromancer on two ocassions, on both ocassions I've had a hard time finishing the book, what I've read is cool though...I always stop reading somewhere around the time when they actually give him a mission to accomplish. It's a solid piece of science fiction literature, but kind of hard to get through in my opinion. But I'm on a mission of finishing that one before they make a movie out of it, which I heard could happen soon, it's a project currently in development.

Maurice Mitchell said...

A great review Fransisco. Neill has an amazing way with science fiction and he needs to keep coming up with original stuff.

Franco Macabro said...

He has said that's what he'll do, looking forward to what he has up his sleeves next.

Aylmer said...

Yeah, Vincenzo Natali is trying to get Neuromancer made.

If you're having trouble finishing Neuromancer, I'd suggest starting with "Burning Chrome", it's an anthology that contains the Johnny Mnemonic short story ;)

Franco Macabro said...

Cool, I will be reviewing Johnny Mnemonic, actually saw it last night! I'll try and check that book out Aylmer, thanks for the suggestion.

SFF said...

Francisco, I liked your review but just want to note that border patrol agents work awfully hard and difficult jobs.

Like anything in life you can point out something truly abhorrent but this is indeed an exception to the reality.

It just sounded like "the United States" was actually advocating such action when in reality it is generally the actions of a few. Whether it's a few bad eggs in protest movements, a rogue militant in the US army, etc...

I hope you are with me on that my friend.

Franco Macabro said...

Sci-Fi Fanatic: I hear ya man, I don't have anything against border patrol agents, because they are humans, just like you and me, they are doing their job and I respect that. I after all consider myself a humanist and a pacifist in every sense of the word.

Still, I do hate it when governments (and I'm not speaking about anyone in particular now, just in general) use their police force to opress...or even kill others for racial differences, which sadly is a very real thing that happens in this world.

I just hate the idea that we're not really free to go where we want in this world. You have to go through all this legal mumbo jumbo just to be in a country for a short period of time?

In the case of the U.S. Border for example, I was reading an article about how there have been cases where U.S. Border Patrol agents have actually killed illegal immigrants crossing the border.

For example, it was reported that from 1988 to 1990 fourteen deaths occured, and these were just the ones that were reported, there's many more cases of people who go missing in the border, their bodies never to be found...which is a sad thing, I mean, I can understand the U.S. wanting to control the amount of people entering their country, but damn, killing these people?

I am also aware that illegal immigrants crossing the US Border sometimes come armed, and even throw rocks to Border Patrol Officers, and many of them have been harmed this is my understanding that in cases where they are attacked with rocks, Border Patrol Officers are actually authorized to attack.

This is just a sad situation all around, my idealistic mind wishes it wasn't this way, but so do many other minds, it's why films like Elysium come out. I remember MACHETE, with it's low budget b-movie mind was actually a film that touched upon this theme with empathy if you can believe it!

These are crazy situations that happen in our world, I just call it like it is in my reviews, I hope I don't come off too one sided, but if I see it wrong, I say it like it is, no holding back, cause what kind of a world do we live in when we can't say things the way they are?

Cheers my friend and thanks for commenting!


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