Well Movie goers, I am back in writing reviews, and for once I have reviewed a movie that is actually current! This weekend I saw Elysium, starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga and host of other actors you can look up on IMDB. It was written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, known best for his film District 9.
Now to start off, I am actually a pretty big science fiction fan and am glad that the genre seems to be gaining a foothold in the world of films. That said, I was fairly ambivalent to Elysium prior to seeing it. Good science fiction always should make a social commentary, but I also tend to be wary of films that have a rather good chance at depressing me. From the trailers, I could tell that it was likely I’d end up leaving the movie theater hating humanity. Additionally, it almost seemed to be inspired by Battle Angel Alita (aka Gunnm) which is an old anime/manga series featuring a world much like the one we see in Elysium:
Earth is spoiled, polluted and overpopulated and while poverty stricken masses rot, the rich live in luxury in a space habitat with opulence and luxury. A young hero seeks to live there and bring all he/she loves there as well.
Fortunately the similarities end with the actual plot- Matt Damon plays Max, who is an ex felon working in plant that produces androids. After a confrontation with the police forces, he breaks his arm and runs into an old flame, Freya (Alice Braga) who has grown up to be a nurse and we find out that she has a daughter suffering acute leukemia. As a result of an accident at his work place, Max is exposed to a massive dose of radiation and has only five days until he dies horribly. As a nice severance package, his company gives him a bottle of pills that will allow him to function for those five days as normally as possible, and sends him on his way. Realizing time is limited, and knowing Elysium has the means to cure him, Max decides to look up an old comrade, Spider, who has been working to get illegals up to Elysium via shuttles. They decide on a plan to steal the internal data of an Elysium citizen (which in the future, is stored in microchips in ones brain) to be able to successfully get Max and others in. Max decides the victim of the data theft needs to be his old boss, John Carlyle (William Fichtner), and things roll into action.
I will say that I was really quite pleasantly surprised by this film. I wasn’t sure going into it as what I should expect for a plot. I feared that the film would be one that had the promise of making a point and instead would devolve into yet another action film with a lot of fury, signifying nothing. Elysium avoids this temptation, while there is plenty of action, it shows itself to be a modern allegory about today’s western society. (I’m sure that you can argue its mostly about the United States of America, but I figure I might as well be fair and lump all the powers into it.)
During the course of the film, the audience is quite literally hammered with social commentary: We see a society where minorities and the poor are exploited, abused, and left to a corrupt system full of bureaucratic holes people slip through; a medical system where only the elite can find treatment for their serious illnesses; those that display “unwanted tendencies” are simply medicated; and a single mother (Freya) who is left to care for her ill daughter with no assistance. On the other side of the “fence” we have a society where everyone lives in ease and luxury, kept in control by a president who seems more of a figurehead and a secretary of state who is determined to keep the “illegals” out at any cost.
I could go even further into the commentary the film makes about our society, but that would take far too long and likely end with me drinking, so lets instead go in with how I feel about the film as a whole.
First, I will say that the story is well told. The cinematography is excellent, the effects are spot on and its easy to become immersed in a world that has collapsed. You can feel the strain and stress of living in such an environment and how it pulls people down. The Earth is gritty, dirty, and when it happens, violence is bloody and horrific. In stark contrast, Elysium is picturesque, immaculate, and pristine with glimmering homes and people blissfully unaware of the chaos below.
The casting on this film was also done extremely well. Damon as Max is a likable person who is attempting to simply survive and not end up in prison. That is, until he becomes exposed to the larger scope of things.
Jodie Foster is impressive as political bitch Secretary Delacourt who is determined to protect her home at any cost, and yet is so clearly blinded by her mission to act with any sort of ethics. Alice Braga as Freya stands well as a mother attempting to save her daughter but is a bit of a flat character. She is simply a single mother who became a nurse and now has to struggle as her daughter dies without proper care. Sharlto Copley is also enjoyable as the “other villain” Kruger, who at first is played only as Delacourt’s hired flunky, but plays a far more pivotal role as the film progresses.
My only regret when it comes to the story telling is that it feels like key plot points about the characters were lost in the editing process. While we can easily connect with Max and learn about his and Freya’s past, we never really get any insight about Delacourt (or anyone else for that matter).
We get a brief point where we can see Delacourt clearly has people she cares about, but that is quickly overshadowed by her maniacal mission to lead Elysium the way she sees best. I imagine that this was done for a few reasons: A. To keep the allegorical quality of this film in focus (it’s best not to make its “monsters” seem too human); B. marketing reasons (three hour films rarely do well unless featuring crying hobbits); and C. pacing.
On the pacing piece, I think the film has a few points where we spend so much time on scenic shots of a society gone to ruin, and how broken the society is that it takes a while to really get to the meat of the story. An example of this is when Max has to go see his parole officer following an incident with the droid police at the start of the film. His parole officer turns out just to be an animatronic taking head that simply repeats that not complying with the police is a bad thing and takes no sympathy at Max’s victimization and instead offers medications once sensing his rising pulse rate.
Yes, we can all see that criminals are given no chance to rehabilitate, and the system isn’t fair, but that the film pulls that off more effectively in other facets of the story without needing to see Max argue with a talking doll. Thankfully, once the film starts getting into the heart of the story, things move quickly and keep ones attention.
My other slight gripe with this film is that I feel like the argument gets held back by its own implausibility. I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a society like the world we see in Elysium to exist (one might argue it already does), but there are just points where if you think too hard about it, some of the actions individuals and really the entire society takes just makes no sense. I’ll avoid plot spoilers but one moment is when you consider the fact that Elysium is a big floating space station. It clearly still has manufacturing on Earth, so it has finite resources and needs Earth to thrive. While I do understand that most governments are Machiavellian and short sighted, it just seems a stretch to think humanity would create technology that can save all from diseases and just so “welp, this is only for the special people! We’ll all live in a space station that can easily be destroyed by a meteor or catastrophically fail should some system eff up, and you all live on polluted Earth and supply stuff we need. BYES!”. I mean yes, I realize the world of today is like this, but we also don’t have technology that can just magically make sickness go away, and resources of all types are limited. In a perfect world, we could fix all that, and it would just seem like if we had that possible, we would.
I will say that Blomkamp is a fantastic storyteller and is becoming a master of Science Fiction. While I disagree with plausibility, this is a great movie. While it left me thinking, I am glad to say it did not leave me sobbingly depressed. Its only real faults lie in the fact that people usually won’t sit for three hours for a film, and thus it just doesn’t have enough time to really flesh itself out to fill in the gaps of characters and plot. I am hopeful that when this hits DVD, there will be a directors cut with a good deal more footage.
So would I say go see Elysium? On a ten sided die, I could give it a 9. Definitely worth the cost of a movie ticket but just a bit off from perfect.
Until Next time Folks:
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