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