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In the year 2154, the world is polluted, diseased and overpopulated to the point that the super-rich decide to build themselves a private colony in space called Elysium, while the rest of humanity (the 99 percent) are left on the desolate and neglected planet earth.
Elysium, directed by Neill Blomkamp (District 9) follows the story of Max (Matt Damon), a citizen of earth, who tries desperately to get to Elysium after a workplace accident puts his life in jeopardy. While Elysium was partially derailed by its dense political messages, it was a visually stunning film, which explored important social issues in an undeniably thrilling way.
We are suckers for a sci-fi film that uses its narrative to explore social issues of the present day. And explore social issues is really all that Elysium does with its story. Elysium itself is a manifestation of Christian Parenti’s concept of the armed lifeboat, the metaphor for the militarization of borders for the exclusion and repression of refugees. Similar to Elysium, the 2006 film Children of Men offers a chilling depiction of what this kind of society might look like.
Elysium is an ambitious film, perhaps too ambitious for its own good. The film tries to tackle many themes that are pertinent to today’s political dialogue, including immigration, healthcare and income inequality. The biggest problem with the film is that it puts the politics before the narrative. Blomkamp’s previous film, District 9, explored the idea of apartheid, but this political theme was in the periphery of story. District 9 put its narrative above its politics. Otherwise, all you are left with is an above average story with marginally explored political themes.
That being said, it is refreshing in this day and age to see a film that isn’t a totally mindless action fest (sorry Pacific Rim). Elysium challenges its audience. Elysium takes risks with its political messages. We are happy that there are still writers and directors that are passionate about telling a story with a message, which makes Elysium invigorating in its own way. Elysium won’t change the political sphere by any measure, but it’s future setting will challenge peoples’ perception of what is fair in the present day.
Neill Blomkamp is a true visual director. On planet earth, Blomkamp is able to convey a very dirty and realistic look into humanities unfortunate future. Elysium on the other hand is a beautifully framed paradise in space, and Blomkamp illustrates it with equal skill.
Every action scene is gritty and innovatively filmed and the special effects were fantastic. But although Elysium is a testament to Blomkamp’s skill as a visual filmmaker, it does not demonstrate his talent as a writer.
Despite of Blomkamp’s intention, his prowess in making a film about so many political and social issues blinded him from making the sci-fi classic that Elysium could have been. Elysium is not the gem that District 9 was, nor is it the next dystopian sci fi classic, but it was an interesting and entertaining film which demonstrates that social issues still have a place in sci-fi, an attribute that separates it from other summer action blockbusters, enough, but barely enough, to earn Elysium a rating of Alpha.