Cautionary tale of privilege and poverty

Cautionary tale of privilege and poverty

English (A) ¬¬¬
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Cast:  Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley and Alice Braga

Neill Blomkamp’s films are more about social commentary than dazzling pyrotechnics, even if he has to employ entertainment as a gimmick to draw audiences to the theatre.
If his 2009 feature debut District 9 was a metaphorical argument against irrational, Apartheid-like discrimination, his newest film, Elysium is about the wealth of modernised countries and their responsibility to alleviate the pitiful conditions of third-world nations.

The film chronicles the last five days of a lowly factory worker and ex-convict, Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), who lives in Los Angeles, 141 years in the future. The city, which has turned into a gigantic version of a Rio de Janeiro favela, is a dystopian extension of a metropolis frequently described as fantasy-brothel where everything is for sale — febrile ground for Blomkamp to espouse his ideas on global equality.

The earth of Elysium is an overgrown sprawl of slums, suffering the ravages of disease and overpopulation by the dawn of the 22nd century. Human society has fragmented into two classes of people. There is the wealthy – a largely Caucasian crowd sporting tan trousers, V-neck sweaters, Saks Fifth Avenue dresses, living amidst sprawling gardens and mini-lakes on Elysium, a massive space station hovering over the earth, and the poor, who having been abandoned on the planet, living a life akin to those of the rabble masses of the most wretched of third-world nations. The contrast is stark, like comparing Bangladesh to Scandinavia (filming locations had Mexico double for earth and parts of Vancouver for Elysium).

Caught within the framework of Blomkamps’ philosophical ramblings is Da Costa who is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation while at work. In the true spirit of the dystopian hero, and aware that he will suffer complete organ failure in five days, Da Costa embarks on a desperate voyage to reach salvation – in this case, Elysium, which has revolutionary health-restorative equipment. His journey is not easy.

Reunited with a childhood flame, Frey (Alice Braga), a nurse whose own child has been diagnosed with a fatal condition, he is caught between the interplanetary aspirations of a Robin Hood-like smuggler, Spider (Wagner Moura), and the ruthless ambitions of the Elysium Secretary of Defence, Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who plans to depose the space station’s president in a coup. Da Costa finds himself at the centre of the conspiracy after he inadvertently steals information of vital importance to the operation. Soon, he is in the sights of Delacourt’s mercenary operative, Kruger, distractingly portrayed by Sharlto Copley, the meek-like lead of District 9.

The famed writer Kurt Vonnegut once wrote that science fiction was perhaps the best medium to realistically examine the existential crisis of humanity.

Blomkamp recognizes this, but the issues raised by Elysium are borderline cynical.
Blomkamp seems to want modernised countries to open their borders and rescue ailing, industrialising nations. But where does the line stop between responsibility and cultural self-protection, between aid and accusations of neo-colonialism? The film may be rife with unrealistic sophistry, but that is not to say that Elysium is devoid of wonder.

Blomkamp’s gift is to develop worlds which seem completely believable, down to the grease-stained sprocket. His other skills lie in blowing things up, concocting convincing technology and creating riveting combat sequences. Despite these strengths, however, Elysium will go down as a film which falters under the weight of its own clunky ruminations.