Science fiction these days seems to be more highly dependent upon impressive visuals than story as a studio selling point. However, Neill Blomkamp seeks to change this landscape, one movie at a time. From the director that brought us District 9, a thinly veiled commentary on apartheid behind the guise of actual “illegal aliens,” comes Elysium; a similarly stirring and thought provoking take on class disparity and immigration reform. In a not so distant Los Angeles, our dystopian future has reached the height of social division between the haves and have-nots in that they are literally living on another world, a floating near-orbiting paradise called Elysium.
As a straight forward sci-fi thriller there are definitely some issues keeping this from being perfect. The single-minded drive of the military presence, the rather stilted performance from Jodie Foster, the drawn-out lackluster eventual assault on the Elysium colony, and a large percentage of the fighting done in nauseating-closeup-fast-cut-shakey cam, all rub me the wrong way. However, when viewed as a larger social commentary, as I feel it’s meant to, you are put through an emotional wringer the likes of which you haven’t gotten from a summer blockbuster in quite a long time (if ever). This is not entertainment for entertainment’s sake; this film has merit—a lot of it stemming from an internal dialogue you as the viewer should be having with the film. As you take this journey ask yourself why those in paradise feel the need to claw for more. Ask yourself why those in squalor squabble over resources through crime and self segregation when it would be easier and more productive to reach out a hand and pull each other out of the mire. Ask yourself what kind of people are granted power that take as much joy gunning down “insurgents” as Ted Nugent does shooting game from a helicopter. Ask yourself why on earth should corporations be allowed a vested interest into the affairs of government when $$$ doesn’t sound anything like “for the people.” Ask yourself why we need to horde resources and treat those that want something similar not as equal human beings trying to make a better life, but rather as criminals. If you keep those questions in mind as you watch Elysium this film will have a weighted merit in the importance of its setup and emotional payoff in its ending that will far outlast the damage done by a so-so, twenty-minute action sequence.
If you’ve spent any time in Los Angeles recently you can already feel these tendencies creeping in to your every day life. It’s an environment dominated more by steel, glass, and burnt earth than wide open green spaces (even the artificial paradise has a ruddy pallet that rings of simulated lushness). It’s a place where surveillance helicopters fly nightly over the homes of the guilty and innocent alike. It’s a political landscape ruled by fear: fear of change, fear of your neighbors, fear of outsiders. It’s a climate that rewards being insular and stand-offish. It’s already dystopia, just minus killer guard robots.
Elysium makes you reflect; I left the theatre a ball of emotion having just spent nearly two hours simultaneously on the verge of nausea and tears. As I set foot outside, a slight rain began to fall, and as my eyes adjusted to the light, a calm and a touch of hope filled my senses. For a brief moment I grasped the beauty in what I already have, that if your basic needs are in line—food in your pantry, a roof over your head, and clothes on your back—then you already are in a better spot than the majority of the world. It is this moment that I want to hold on to, for it is this moment that makes Elysium a powerful and worthwhile film. A film that makes you think and feel and take action is what elevates something above mere popcorn entertainment or dumb VFX driven manufactured drama. Hopefully it is this moment that strikes a lot of people. But what do I know? It’s only an allegory.
Thom Obarski is an editor with a writing problem. Also, a podcaster, nerdy comic gamer guy & opinionated consumer with a penchant for geeky fitness involved in a dark and twisted love/hate relationship with pop-culture and run-on sentences. Check him out weekly on Geek Girls, Nerd Boys on Fanboys Inc. When not inside hiding from the sun, you can find him running from zombies, slinging arrows with Hawkeye, sparing with the Cavalier, or target shooting with Deadshot.