Elysium Works if One Can Set Aside its Soapbox
- Thursday, August 08, 2013
Release Date: August 9, 2013
Rating: Rated R (for strong bloody violence and language throughout)
Run Time: 109 min
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Wagner Moura, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, William Fichtner, Faran Tahir
It comes from South-African filmmaker Neill Blomkamp. His low-budget sci-fi surprise District 9 went on to be a critical and commercial hit, even garnering a Best Picture nomination. Now comes his follow-up Elysium. In broad stylistic strokes, it’s sort of District 9 on a much bigger budget, and to Blomkamp’s credit his creative strengths are elevated by the additional financial resources rather than buried by them.
Yet while Blomkamp’s visionary visuals and shrewd narrative instantly evoke positive comparisons to Nolan, Blomkamp remains decidedly inferior when it comes to thematic exploration. Where Nolan wrestles with existential fears (i.e. The Dark Knight’s terrorism allegory) to which there are no easy answers, Blomkamp preaches while oversimplifying the issues he raises. There’s no wrestling with Blomkamp; there’s only right and wrong, heroes and villains, along, respectively, left and right political lines.
In District 9, Blomkamp took on his native country’s history of Apartheid (and, by suggestion, the global war on terror). In Elysium, his parabolic target is illegal immigration (and also, by suggestion, universal health care).
Elyisum takes place in the year 2154, when Earth is one big slum of pollution, disease, and over-population. It is a violent and profane world (as the R-rating attests). In its orbit is a gigantic space station called Elysium, one that is more than just a spacecraft.
Elysium is like the best version of Earth: complete with its own ecosystem, beautiful homes and communities, instantaneous health care that can heal all forms of injury and disease... and available only to the ultra-rich. The Haves live in Elysium’s heavenly bubble while The Have-Nots are consigned (by force) to Earth’s squalor. This is the story of how the earthbound poor try to illegally cross the galactic border between the two.
To hammer his metaphor home from the outset, Blomkamp makes his 22nd-century Los Angeles look and sound like the worst version of contemporary Mexico City (where all of the Earth scenes were actually shot). He then adds in a layer of futuristic totalitarian force in which armed robots – brought to life through superb digital animation and seamless composition into real-world locales – roam the streets, keep order, and profile at random. Government-aid bureaucrats are also literal robots – polite, but in the most patronizingly programmed way. Citizens are stuck doing manual labor (i.e. the jobs nobody else wants), all in service of the rich elite who live safely in the closed-gate community up above.
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