This summer was filled with major science fiction blockbusters. However, disappointments like Oblivion and Pacific Rim left me with little hope that any good original science fiction would hit the theaters this year. Luckily I was proven wrong, twice in fact. The second one will be the subject of an other post. Let’s first take a look at Elysium by Neil Blomkamp who was also responsible for District 9.
For those who forgot: District 9 was about aliens that – for a change – weren’t vastly superior to mankind. They just happened to make a crash landing on earth in a quite unpredictable place: South Africa. Being the polite and welcoming species that mankind is, we relegated them to live in slums. Though Elysium does not involve aliens, it does deliver the same type of social criticism that made District 9 an above average flick.
In Elysium we learn that in 2154 most of humanity still lives on earth, but in poor conditions. The wealthy minority – let us call them the one percent – live on an artificial torus-shaped space station named Elysium. Filled with villas, green pastures and advanced technology, Elysium is the dream of any earthling. However, we quickly learn that it is not easy to actually get there for the vast majority of people.
When three rogue ships carrying refugees approach the station, the minister of defense – an ice-cold lady portrayed by Jodie Foster – ruthlessly orders two of them to be shot to pieces. The third one barely manages to land on Elysium. A young mother carrying an ill child rushes into one of the deserted villas to place her child in a ‘med-bay’. To the mother’s relief, the child is instantly healed. Though a second later both are apprehended by human-form robots labeled ‘homeland security’.
Limited access to resources, like the med-bay which can instantly heal any disease, is what this movie is all about. Max is one of the lucky few earthlings that has a job. He works in a factory where the human-form robots are built. If that sounds good: it really isn’t. He is transported to work by a ramshackle bus, and the owner of the business treats his employees in a manner similar to how he handles robots: as replaceable parts. Getting to Elysium is Max’s childhood dream, and due to unforeseen circumstances he has to make that dream come true sooner rather than later.
In contrast to the other recent action science fiction films mentioned earlier, Elysium really does make you think about the story’s deeper implications. Besides that, it has plenty of action as well, which is at times perhaps a bit too visceral and too much. Luckily, the thing Elysium does gets right is populating its story with a diverse set of characters who all have clear motivations. No character is plain evil just for the sake of it.
Though not as thought-provoking and creative as District 9. With a clear story and good acting work (Matt Damon, Carly Shane, Jodie Foster), Elysium brings back some life to the action science fiction genre, in contrast with the rather lackluster attempts released in early summer. Worth watching, even if you’re not into science fiction.