Friday, August 9, 2013
CNS/USCCB (J. Mulderig) review
RogerEbert.com (B. Kenigsberg) review
AVClub (A.A. Dowd) review
Elysium  (written and directed by Neill Blomkamp) is a SciFi parable set on earth and its environs in the year 2154 after life on Earth (according to the story) had become so problematic (pollution, crime, overpopulation) that its rich had abandoned it for the ultimate "gated community" a utopian wheel-shaped space colony (a la Gerald K. O'Neill's post-Apollo era book The High Frontier (1975) [wikip]) called Elysium where the air was fresh, the water was clean, the lawns were lush and the medical care so top-notch that all diseases, (most notably skin cancer due to radiation) is cured in real time by means of a MRI like scanning/treatment device.
On Earth, well ... life appears cheap, violent and brutal, yet not without hope. In probably one of the most interesting portrayals of Catholic nuns by Hollywood in recent decades (let alone the happy surprise of portraying Catholic nuns as relevant even in a vision of a distant future in a science fiction film), the nun (played by Yolanda Abbud L.) running the orphanage where Max (played as a child by Maxwell Perry Cotton and later as an adult by Matt Damon) and Frey (played as a child by Valentina Giron and later as an adult by Alice Braga) grow-up tells Max who dreams of "one day" finding a way of reaching the space-wheel in the sky: "Never forget where you come from and never forget how beautiful it is here" (amidst all of Earth's chaos/problems).
And so it is, Max along with all kinds of others grows-up dreaming of getting out/off the "hell hole" that Earth has become and going to the "perfect gated community in the sky," while the beautiful/carefree inhabitants of said "perfect gated community in the sky" go to all kinds of lengths, including blowing-up "illegal shuttles" trying to evade the "gated community's" / space colony's defenses, to keep "intruders at bay." Writer/director Neill Blomkamp who was born and raised in South Africa knows and works now in Los Angeles, by far the largest American metropolitan area near the border between the United States and Mexico, knows a thing or two about both Apartheid and the current immigration debate in the United States/elsewhere.
And Blomkamp reminds viewers that "post-Apartheid Apartheid" is not about just physical borders, it's really about access. So the film is not merely about "sneaking across borders" for "a better life" in general. It's also about access to medical care. While Max was always resentful of the rich floating above him in their "gated community in the sky," when he finds himself doused with a dose of radiation at work that would kill him in 5 days time (and yet his body would be cured within minutes by the above-mentioned MRI-like reconstruction device floating up there in the sky), getting to the space colony, by hook or crook, becomes a matter of life and death. And when he finds out that Frey's daughter Matilda (played by Emma Tremblay) needs to get up there for treatment (for leukemia) as well, the quest becomes all the more urgent.
Yet, of course, there are obstacles. There's a "space cayote" (people smuggler) named Spider (played by Wagner Moura), there's a merciless Earth based deep undercover "border control agent" (played by Jackson Berlin) who gets called upon to "bring down" unauthorized shuttle craft heading toward the space colony with shoulder fired SAM missiles. Finally there's an "ice"-cold "Defense Secretary" named Delacourt (played by Jodie Foster) bent on defending "what we've built" at the high flying space colony against "all intruders" for the sake of her "children and grandchildren."
Yes, it's a left-wing parable. But like Upside Down  and In Time  it tells a story about radicially unequal societies with those on top hell-bent on keeping things that way. Blomkamp's contribution would be that the ideology that justifies such separation between those who have and those who do not is basically that of Apartheid. It's something to think about ...
But the presence of the Nuns in the story remains a remarkable addition because they remind us that "having" isn't all-important, that there is beauty/value even in the midst of chaos and even where there "isn't much" there can be Relationships and Hope. And floating in a blissful "space colony in the sky" where every need is met but most of humanity is kept at bay could actually be akin to "floating in a grade-A grave." Again, something more to contemplate ;-)
Finally, Parents, I would note that the film deserves its R-rating as it is at times IMHO needlessly gory/violent. Perhaps this is so as to showcase the power of the MRI-like "reconstruction" machine which proves capable of reconstructing even the most mutilated of people (by either the sun's rays/radiation in outer space or by RPG / machine gun blasts below). However, I do think that the same point could have been made in a less graphic manner. That said, the film is certainly worth viewing by a young adult and above sci-fi inclined crowd.
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