I’ve been to the cinema every week for the last five weeks and seen a number of different films; Despicable Me 2 (better than the first if possible), The Heat (hilariously brilliant), Kick Ass 2 (not as good as the first), and The World’s End (amazing). Last night I saw Elysium, written and directed by Neill Blomkamp , who also wrote and directed District 9, and starring Matt Damon (Max), Jodie Foster (Delacourt), Sharlto Copley (Kruger), Wagner Moura (Spider) and Alice Braga (Frey).
Both District 9 and Elysium carry an important message and lessons. It is well known among science fiction writers that science fiction is not about the future, it is about the present. These films are like political thrillers only with space and new age guns and robots/aliens. District 9 was a moving film about race, Elysium is about class.
When Earth became overpopulated, the rich moved to Elysium, a space station ‘habitat’ in Earth’s orbit. The poor were left to waste away on Earth in broken down cities, scraping together a living, just about surviving and dreaming of a life on Elysium. Max is one such dreamer. Driven to stealing as a child to pay for his ticket, he’s now on probation and honest, working hard in a factory making droids. After suffering a lethal dose of radiation, Max’s need to go to Elysium, where all illnesses can be cured in a matter of seconds, is intensified and he becomes desperate. He takes on a dangerous and world changing job from Spider, a hacker who lives off hopes and dreams by selling tickets to Elysium along with fake citizenship IDs (yes, those who live on Earth aren’t considered to be citizens).
Elysium is powerful stuff. From the beginning the message is clear and it hits you hard. It rings so true that it leaves you breathless.
Let’s start with Max’s job. He’s a factory worker. The job is bad enough and his supervisor telling him that he’s ‘lucky to have this job’ rubs salt into the wound (it’ll rankle anyone who hates their job in this current economic climate). When Max is forced into a dangerous situation by his uncaring supervisor, you begin to get the idea of how far apart the two classes are, although this is also a suggestion of an upper working class/middle class. When the company’s owner, a citizen of Elysium, understands that Max is dying and is more worried about having to pay for new sheets, the true class gap is apparent. The poor have no money, they have no power, they receive no empathy. They have no hope.
Max is given drugs to keep his vital organs working until his untimely death and sent on his way. If he were on Elysium, he would simply lie in a med-pod and be cured. The rich can afford instant medical care and cures, the poor can’t. At some point in the film, Max makes it to a hospital. Where his childhood friend, Frey, is told that she must take her dying daughter home because ‘this isn’t Elysium, we can’t just cure her’. The hospital is overflowing with sick people with over worked, passionate people stuck with a system that just won’t let them save lives.
The real kicker? Parts of this film were shot in real Mexican city slums. People, families, living off the waste of those higher up the social ladder.
This is real.
Despite the strong messages, the science fiction element helps to make the film an easier pill to swallow. The broken city is beautifully designed, as is Elysium. The guns make the most wonderful noises, although I think it’s a bad design that in the future you can’t just shoot the bad guy in his exposed head (I’m thinking of the gantry fight scene towards the end).
The number of accents in play is charming and also serves to hammer home the point that this sort of prejudice and segregation is happening all over the world – South Africa, America, Brazil, Mexico. Jodie Foster’s accent was intriguing though. I couldn’t decide if she was putting on an accent and failing, being dubbed or just doing some bad acting. It’s a shame because her lines threw the magic a little.
Elysium felt like quite a long film but comes in under two hours so I’m not sure why this is. The dialogue is fast and engaging, the fight scenes are detailed and spectacular and the characters are well rounded. Elysium has a depth to it, allowing the viewer to see how much they want to see. The film is gut wrenching, beautiful and empowering.
Viva la revolution!