Director Neill Blomkamp is South African, but Elysium is not a “black film” (given this site’s focus); although a reading of it could certainly expose racial allegories and metaphors within it.
But that’s not why I’m here today.
A number of questions that came to me about the film as I watched it, nagged me after I saw it recently, and I thought I’d pose 5 of those questions here, hoping that maybe you guys can answer them for me.
So without further ado (spoilers ahead if you haven’t seen the movie yet), here are the 5 questions:
1 – On an “earth” (although Los Angeles is the only city represented here for much of the film) whose population is seemingly overwhelmingly comprised of Latino Americans (a nod to *fears* amongst many, especially on the right, that this country’s population will soon one day be dominated by central and South Americans), why is our “messiah” (“The One” we could call him; we’ve seen him in many forms in past films), still very much Anglo-American? Earth, as it’s presented to us in the film, apocalyptic, is very clearly predominantly populated with people of color, with very few white faces scattered about (meanwhile, Elysium’s population comprises almost entirely of white people); but yet, “The One” who’s chosen to save earth, and the rest of us all, has to be from that tiny white minority that’s left on earth. There’s even a scene during which Matt Damon’s enabler and rebel leader on earth (played by Brazilian actor Wagner Moura) scolds his fellow rebels for not having the balls to take the assignment that our white hero, Damon, eventually embraces. Essentially, suggesting that they’re all a bunch of chickens, while the white man has the courage and fortitude they lack. Couldn’t one of them have stepped up and been The Man for a change?
2 – Why would earth’s inhabitants insist on breaching Elysium airspace, despite the fact that, each time they attempt to do so, they are shot down in space before ever reaching Elysium, with countless fatalities? I’d understand if they had a 50/50 chance of making the trip alive, or even a 70/30 shot. But, based on the information we are provided in the film, they have really almost no chance of surviving a trip to Elysium. There’s a 99.9% chance that they’d either be shot down and killed, or will be immediately apprehended by Elysium’s efficient robot army, once they land, and will either be killed, or sent right back to earth. I understand survival, but given those odds, I’d rather take my chances on earth, despite the dystopia it’s apparently become, than risk death.
3 – Why did Max (Matt Damon) even attempt to dislodge the unintentional jam that was holding up the assembly line at the plant where he worked, knowing fully well what would happen if he did – and that is, being blasted with a fatal dose of radiation? I know, I know… his boss threatened to fire him if he didn’t do it. But, yo, I’d rather lose my job (despite how dilapidated earth’s surface was) than risk being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation that would kill me in a matter of days. At least, I’d still be alive, yes, without a job, but I’d be alive, and with options. In death, I have none. If Blomkamp had painted the character as suicidal, I’d understand. But he’s far from that. Obviously, the main reason Blomkamp scripted that entire sequence of the story was to make Max’s decision to agree to take on what is effectively a suicide mission, a lot easier. He was going to die in 5 days; what did he have to lose by trying to breach Elysium’s borders? If he wasn’t successful, well, he’d die anyway. But, surely this particular motivation could’ve been handled much more credibly and intelligently. I feel like a Neil Blomkamp film (despite this being his second feature), should be smarter and more inventive than that. This just seemed like an all-too convenient, and too easy device, to help position Max for what was to come next. But, realistically, it didn’t make sense to me that the character would do what he did.
4 – Why couldn’t Kruger (Sharlto Copley in a screeching, over-the-top performance) and his henchmen easily identify Max, as they searched for him from their vessel in the air (with Max on the ground, running), when he hid under a push-cart with a few pigs inside of it? They flew over the push-cart, narrowed into his signal, but couldn’t verify it was him underneath the push-cart, because of interference from the pigs inside the cart that Max was hiding under. And so they flew away, assuming he’d gotten away. Given all the technological advances made, as presented in this future earth (like shields that can deflect bullets and other kinds of firepower, and high-powered lazer beams, fully functioning robots that act as soldiers, machines that cure just about every disease you can think of in a matter of seconds, and also the fact that humans beings are making casual trips between a space city, and earth, and much more)… given all of those advances in technology, so much that it seems as if just about any and everything is possible, I don’t understand how hiding under a push-cart with a few pigs on top of it, are all that stood between Kruger’s vessel’s scanners identifying Max (or not) in that crucial scene.
5 – The title, “Elysium.” Can Blomkamp be any more literal or unsubtle? Why not just call it Heaven, or Paradise, or Utopia, or Bliss? And unfortunately, that lack of nuance carries throughout the entire film itself – especially in the acting (aside from Matt Damon, Jodie Foster and the aforementioned Sharlto Copley gave what I felt were truly bizarre performances, as if they rode roughshod over Blomkamp’s directing and did their own thing; or it could be that they were badly-conceived characters); and also the heavy-handed delivery of Blomkamp’s message, and unrelenting soundtrack.
I really, truly do appreciate Blomkamp’s attempts to tackle topical issues in his films, but I’m not sure that he’s yet able to properly incorporate action into the story/message seamlessly, so it serves rather than dominates. All the social, political and cultural relevance feels more like a tease and it all takes a back seat to bludgeoning action set pieces and a lot of noise.
I’d say that I actually liked District 9, his first film (despite the problems I had with that film) over Elysium.