Elysium – 2013
Written and Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, William Fichtner, Wagner Moura, Faran Tahir
Alice Braga is one of the most beautiful women in the world. Her beauty is breathtaking. I spent much of Elysium wondering how in the world it was that Max De Costa, Matt Damon’s character, could ever have lived such a life of risk as to take the chance of ever being separated from her character, Frey. While this was happening, the film sped by me. Giving great effects to a good story, making me feel like I had been entertained. The moment my buddy, C Poppin’ Taco, asked me if I enjoyed it, it took me a few moments to run through what had just occurred.
It certainly was entertaining. Blomkamp’s visual eye is as crisp here as it was in his major breakthrough, District 9. His ability to capture frenetic motion in a clear and concise split second still astounds. He still has an eye to show the thriving of life in disparate conditions. If the next movie looks like it was filmed in Johannesburg (it is actually filmed in a poor district outside of Mexico City), I am going to be suspicious.
Once more we have a situation of the haves and the have nots. This time, instead of humans and aliens, we have, in essence, the literally upper 1%, and the rest of humanity living back on broken, old, dirty earth. Picture, if you will, WALL-E, but instead of leaving robots on earth, we get police droids and human scum. Those chosen few living off planet (with the same type of droids serving them drinks) are travelling the earth’s orbit in a space station designed to hold the atmosphere in a state of perfection. How this happens is not ever explained, but easy enough for anyone to understand for those who understand the concept of a greenhouse.
On earth, there seems to be nothing growing, everything dirty and no protection from the sun. People eke out their livings working in factories making droids or stealing from others who have scarcely anything themselves. There is tight security, though, and it does not have a sense of humor. It also has a blind spot for an endless amount of people trying to escape earth, disguise themselves as citizens and get some of Elysium’s wonderful free healthcare.
The folks in Elysium, led by the ruthless Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt, have no intention of sharing their seemingly endless supply of health care, not to mention their perfectly manicured lawns and houses. No explanation is made as to the source of such amazing resources that would allow people to live forever without disease. In contrast, however, many examples are shown of the haves going to great lengths to block out the have nots.
Into this fray is thrust a ruthless agent named Kruger (Copley, doing his best Daniel Day Lewis). I won’t get into how and why he is ruthless. It would erase what few surprises the film holds. Suffice to say, he is a mean dude. The kind of guy the rich landowner always sent out against the innocent townsfolk in old west movies like the Seven Samurai. Yes, I said Samurai.
Every attempt is made to show oodles of brown people (and one caucasian with a Hispanic name) that are suffering for lack of medical care. Strangely, there is barely any mention of food throughout the film. It makes one wonder what legislation was crossing Blomkamp’s mind when the film was being conceived. There is no discussion of resources, either. It’s like things are available for one group just to spite the other.
Why, I wonder, well after the last lingering shot of the beautiful Ms. Braga, the endless procession of the heroically poor and down trodden? C Poppin’ T did not like the lack of subtlety at all. Being of Hispanic descent himself, but in no way identifying with the 99%, he was insulted an the continuing barrage of imagery that portrayed anyone who lived well as cowardly and conniving, but all the poor folk being brown and exemplary, even when they act as thieves themselves.
Why, I wonder, are there no questions being asked by any of the protagonists as to the legitimacy of the antagonists claim of which is, essentially, their home? What happened to earth? Why does nothing grow? Why have not the general rule of life anywhere taken place here? You know, the one where no one can outlive their resources en masse, generation after generation (literally 140 years from now). Shouldn’t the population match the amount of resources it has? Whatever happened sure wiped out the animals easily enough.
So the film’s largest problem lies in the conclusion it draws. A wall comes down, and everyone is happy for now, because, you know, they have Obama- er, um, I mean health care. Who is going to keep this resource supplied? How is it going to sustain everybody? What are they going to eat? It doesn’t matter, does it? The heroic poor have fish for a day, even if they don’t know how to fish.
As for the acting, I think it is good, for the most part. Damon is exceptional playing out his role as a single-minded good guy. Braga could act out Facebook status updates for which I would gladly give her the Oscar. Moura is great as Spider, a clever gangster with a heart of gold. Fichtner seems to be happy with playing the low ranking bad guy telling others that they don’t know who they are messing with before he is dispatched. The only person in any way disappointing is Foster, in her pre-retirement role. She stayed in the game one batter too many.
Neill Blomkamp is a storyteller with a knack for making memorable films. Not many writer / directors could come up with the story that Frey’s daughter tells Max and make a film with an astounding pace and nearly perfect special effects (if you don’t include the laborious exoskeleton suit fights). He’s got a future in this business. He also has a blind spot. Instead of inviting viewers to see the world for themselves and encouraging them to question what they see, he is preaching. Is it to the choir that feeds his creative impulses in Hollywood? If he can start asking questions with his films and stop answering them, there’s no telling how good his movies can be.
(*** out of *****)