"Elysium" (2013)

Elysium (2013)
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Running time: 109 minutes

I feel I must say that the evidence supporting the notion that science-fiction is the best genre that there is is becoming more and more prominent. Over the past year I’ve seen that most of the films tackling some of the most interesting aspects of the human condition have all done so using the tools of science-fiction. Though they have their flaws, films such as Oblivion exploring (albeit a little shallowly) the concept of identity, what makes us who we are?; Prometheus‘ example of the uncertainty and Babylonian lack of communication and intention if mankind truly met our gods; and even The Host worked a different angle on identity, presenting an emotional scenario far beyond the experience of anyone else alive! Yes other genres tackle some compelling issues as well, but usually only the truly amazing examples from those genres actually do so. But even an average science-fiction film can open up a mind (even subconsciously) to a new way of thinking. Oblivion may not have been perfect, but the discussions I’ve had with people about the ideas presented in the film have been staggering! Now that is the mark of a great creative work.

Which leads me to Neill Blomkamp, a modern pioneer of the science-fiction genre.

Now Showing this week is Elysium, direceted by Neill Blomkamp (previously known for 2009’s District 9). In the future, over-population of Earth has become such an issue that the rich and privileged people felt the need to bail out. They constructed a space station in Earth’s orbit which they named “Elysium” (aptly named after the Ancient Greek realm of the Underworld, reserved for the relatives/chosen ones of the Gods), a paradise filled with beautiful trees, clean air and machines that can cure any ailment on any person with a still functioning brain. Cancer, physical injuries, disease, all of these conditions are a thing of the past for any citizen of Elysium. But this paradise comes at a price: those who are not privileged enough to reside on Elysium are left to suffer on the remains of Earth, a barren wasteland full of derelict slums and poverty. Matt Damon stars as Max, a Los Angeles ex-con assembly line worker who helps build the robots that police humanity and guard Elyisum, who inadvertently gets exposed to such high levels of radiation that he now has five days before he dies. The medical facilities on Elysium are now his only option for survival, but getting up there illegally is no easy task, so Max sells his criminal talents out to a group of illegal people smugglers in the hopes that they will give him passage to the paradise forever floating in the sky.

As thought provoking and enthralling as it is, Elysium‘s comparisons to the real world are hardly subtle. This is especially true here in Australia, with our current political debates in relation to refugees; and Elysium most certainly takes a definite side in the debate. The “illegals” in the film merely want to use Elysium’s medical facilities to cure their ailments, not to rise up and take over; whilst Elysium personnel are willing to shoot down any spacecraft carrying illegals for their own safety. It is obvious who the film thinks is in the wrong here! But Blomkamp uses the beauty that is science-fiction to craft a world that should resonate with people by legitimizing why there are people who travel from one place to another via unconventional means: because the place they are leaving is cruel and prevents them from having the means to travel conventionally. And perhaps a fictitious, exaggerated scenario can resonate a point across more than some real world facts. Again, such is the genius of science-fiction. The debate in the film may be one sided, but it is still compelling.

Aesthetically, Elysium shines! Literally and metaphorically. The pristine world of Elysium itself is glistening with architectural beauty, and luscious plant life; giving off a vibe of cleanliness and purity. This paradise juxtaposed with Earth’s gritty, harsh landscape is what truly nails the class system conflict that is central to the narrative. Earth is sand torn and decrepit; looking like a shanty town housing billions. And while the people of Earth have more advanced technology than we do today, the look and feel of the technology still displays an archaic sensibility. The computer monitors are all 1980s CRTs; Max’s exoskeleton combat suit (on the poster) completely lacks style and finesse; everything in the film displays advancement yet poverty. Now that is a tough aesthetic to pull off, but Blomkamp smashes it! A big part of cinema as a medium is how it looks and feels, and Elysium excels in this department.

Performance wise, the film was quite good as well. Damon as Max was a compelling protagonist, especially with his past experience in the criminal underworld leading to us feeling that perhaps he’s not that great a person. He does have a love interest character named Frey (Alice Braga), however I felt that their relationship felt a little forced every now and then. I didn’t understand what they saw in each other, if that makes sense? Jodie Foster plays a cold villain in the form of Ms. Delacourt, the head of security on Elysium. Foster’s performance may not be one for the history books, but her sense of presence and power in any scene she’s in is palpable. But the true performer of the film is that of Sharlto Copley as Kruger, a disbanded security agent of Elysium brought back in to track Max down. Copley is almost unrecognisable in the role, presenting a character so mentally unbalanced, toeing the line between intelligence and insanity, that it is terrifying. His South Afrikaan accent gave him a higher pitched voice, giving off an air of kindness to him, but his words and his intentions showing his true nature of violence and anger. He was an amazing villain, truly the highlight of the film.

Elysium is most certainly worth your time. My only real complaints about the film would be that the moral argument was too one sided and the ending was a bit naff. I can’t truly explain myself fully on those two points without spoiling the film, so I won’t, but suffice to say that they inform each other and it was a problem. These complaints, however, are hardly a deal breaker and Elysium is definitely one of the smarter action blockbusters you will see this year. Well done Blomkamp, you’ve proven that District 9 was not a fluke!

See you next time!

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