Thursday, April 5, 2018

Elysium (2013)

Written at the time of the film's release.

Zero Tolerance for Citizens
or
Spinning That Ol' Wheel of Fortune

I expect nearly everybody was looking forward to Neill Blomkomp's next film, after the gooey splash District 9 made.  His new one, Elysium, has the same kind of life-lesson—"what have you done for someone else lately?" and how one's perspective changes when you walk around in someone else's downtrodden shoes.  

The approach is slightly different, though, even if the futuristic milieu is still glum.  In this future, the current economic climate hasn't changed, only the locations have.  Earth, after years of neglect, is one big slum, there is no distinction between urban and rural anymore, the green spaces are dead, and there is a space-age version of urban flight—the "one percenters" have moved on up to an orbiting oasis called Elysiumand it is, as in Greek Myth, the isle of the Fortunate, a paradise, with estates and luxury homes perched inside it's rotating ring. It's the ultimate gated community. A large star in the sky, it is out of reach but never out of the sight or the minds of the stragglers of Earth who hope to get there by fortune or by smuggling themselves by shuttles, which Elysium's defensive perimeter either discourages or destroys.

The parallels to today's refugee and immigrant desperation is baldly presented, and obvious to anyone whose world-view isn't in spec-fic but down here on Earth, much as apartheid was morphed into xenophobia in D-9. Add to that that the penthouse in space also seems to have access to the ultimate in universal health-care, a medi-bed that scans you and...simply cures you (it seems). Other than those fanciful details, everything's played a little straighter, no doubt because you have big stars like Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, rather than just Sharlto Copley (although he's here too, bless him), so the financial risks are slightly more, so they make the stakes in the film a little higher, too. Higher in that the government (naturally) is up there in Elysium, in the form of President Patel, who has a rather prickly defense secretary (Foster, channelling Angela Lansbury from The Manchurian Candidate), who has a unique sense of how to protect The Ring, supplementing the force of robot-police with soldiers of fortune, like a particularly nasty one named Kruger (Copley), who would probably kill for a hobby if he wasn't being paid for it.
Down on Earth, it's dog-eat-dog, and former car-thief Max Da Costa (Damon) is trying to go straight, working towards the dream of going to Elysium by working in one of the factories mass-producing the robo-cops that keep the populace under their teflon thumbs. But an industrial accident leaves Da Costa dying, with only five days to live. His only chance is to somehow get up to Elysium and one of those miracle-med-things, so, with a few super-drugs pumping through his system, he signs up to do some dirty work for a former employer, which involves stealing industrial secrets—which just happen to be Elysium's security codes—that will unlock the station's defenses and allow a mass exodus from Earth to Elysium.
Da Costa allows himself to be merged with a powerful exo-skeleton and neural-net to download the codes, then, once there—well, let's just say things get personal, as these things are wont to do, but not selfish, as that flies against the "hero" sense that movies must have, so there has to be some deflection of need for Da Costa to some other....blah-blah-blah. Face it, the exo-skeleton could be a crucifix motif, so Da Costa has to do some sacrificing because...well, that's the way they do it in movies these days. There can't be any motivation of "self" because apparently that would make you as "bad" as the Elysium-buyers. So, ultimately, Da Costa has to do all the fighting and scraping for somebody else, and, as per usual, it's an acquaintance's sick child. Again.
And that's the main thing that makes Elysium less than thrilling: for all the "neat" visuals, for the interesting "take" on today's events, for all the good intentions and the perversions of such, it feels like every other sci-fi Christ allegory and leaves you feeling a little hollow while its trying to make you feel noble and unselfish while watching it. Well, I've seen that before, and I thought the intention of sci-fi was to show you something different. It is a noble effort, but ultimately, it suffers from story-sameness, and recycled ideas from the cookie-cutter school of script-writing.  It's too bad because Elysium has a lot going for it.
Gotta say that Elysium has some pretty cool concepts for its pleasure-wheel


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