3 Stars – Thought-Provoking
The political parable Neill Blomkamp created to express the injustice of apartheid in South Africa was ingenious in District 9. Exhibiting those same skills, Blomkamp has created a similar film depicting the immigration policies of the United States in Elysium. Using science fiction as his vehicle, Blomkamp writes and directs a story about an otherworldly upper class that literally lives in the heavens far above the poverty on earth in a celestial space station called Elysium. Having healthcare that can heal all human diseases, the wealthy are indifferent to the sufferings of others and keep the “illegals” out of their idyllic existence and away from their medical technology until an evil plan for ultimate domination is hijacked in order to bring equality to all.
The central character of our parable is Max (Matt Damon). Max is an orphan who was raised in a Christian orphanage by a loving nun who taught him of his worth. Inseparable with him in that humble beginning is Frey (Alice Braga). They become committed friends and Max promises to take her to Elysium one day. Their lives part when Max leaves the orphanage for a life of crime and Frey becomes a nurse. But as the tale is told, we quickly realize that their hearts are intertwined in ways that will bring freedom to them and their world.
Though robotic police primarily administer the violence in the film, we quickly see the face behind the indifferent oppression by the wealthy, Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Her cold ambition is matched by her cruelty as she unleashes the monstrous agent Kruger (Sharito Copley) against any threats to Elysium’s privilege. Joining her in her evil plot due to his greed is billionaire industrialist John Carlyle (William Fichtner) whose desire for profit is reinforced by the demands of his Board of Directors.
Fighting for freedom and surviving through crime is an underworld barrio of Los Angeles led by the limping Spider (Wagner Moura). A genius whose armed guards are as adept at operating sophisticated computers, performing adaptive surgeries and navigating space travel as they are at using guns, Spider sells spaces to transport the sick and impaired up to Elysium for medical care. When Max is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation at Carlyle’s factory, he and Spider join forces to get him to Elysium to save his life. It is this collaboration that changes everything.
The power of a parable is that it takes us to another time and place to reveal the underlying political and ethical truths about the real world. It is easy to look at the privileged class of “citizens” in Elysium and ask why: Why are they not sharing their wealth and medical technology with others? The sacrificial death of Max as a Christ figure to open the way to universal healthcare by making the entire world citizens of Elysium speaks to our hearts. But, like all parables, the head gets in the way and rationalizes why it would never work. It is this dialogue of heart and head that Blomkamp opens up with this thought-provoking film.
Discussion for those who have seen this film:
1. If the United States were to make all the people of the world citizens of the U.S.A. and gave full rights and privileges to all, what do you think would happen?
2. Do you think the insulation of wealth behind gated communities or bordered nations creates an excuse to deny the suffering of others? Why do you answer as you do?
3. Even on Elysium, the president is appalled at the cruelty used by Secretary Delacourt to protect their borders. Yet he doesn’t do anything to stop the injustice. What rationalization do you make for your inaction on behalf of people suffering from poverty and lack of medical care in the real world?