Movie review – Elysium: A barren apocalypse

2013-09-01 14:00

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Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium is a dystopian vision of off-planet haves and on-planet have-nots. A bit like a futuristic Dainfern and Diepsloot, writes Gayle Edmunds.

Film: Elysium (Ster-Kinekor)

Director: Neill Blomkamp

Featuring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Alice Braga, Diego Luna and Sharlto Copley

In the future, Earth is even more hellish for the majority of people than it is now.

In fact, the whole place looks like a bombed suburb of a Syrian city.

The land is bereft of vegetation, making the question of food interesting; the water comes out of the tap as a dirty trickle; and the streets are policed by humourless, shoot-to-kill robocops.

Meanwhile, up in space, the rich and politically connected are swanning around in white cocktail outfits, sipping champagne (where are the grapes?) on green lawns in Elysium – a custom-built habitat – the epitome of the mythical Greek place it derives its name from.

The setup of South African-born, Canadian-based, director Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to the Oscar-nominated District 9 isn’t that original and is yet another barren, apocalyptic vision.

A major issue in 2154 is still healthcare.

The folks in space have magical medical beds that swipe away killer diseases with a whirr and a scan, while the blighted folks on Earth’s surface are faced with overcrowded, understaffed, undersupplied public hospitals. So far a bit like, well, the present-day world.

Matt Damon’s character, Max da Costa, is an ex-convict going straight.

He’s got a job on a production line in a factory and when he gets a lethal dose of radiation that will kill him in five days, he goes into overdrive to get to Elysium and one of those magical medical beds.

So begins the action.

He’s difficult to like, gobsmackingly selfish, even the introduction of his childhood love and her child can’t extract the humanity from this character who takes far too long to respond to the emotional cues around him.

While Max is planning for Elysium – which shoots down any spacecraft that enters its airspace – the secretary of defence there, Delacourt (Jodie Foster), is plotting a coup. She makes Donald Rumsfeld look like a peace-pushing hippie.

Delacourt is as single-minded as a fembot who is brutal about protecting paradise for her children and their children at the expense of all “others”.

Rounding out the cast is a much buffer Sharlto Copley (so brilliant as Wikus in District 9), who offers a combination of psychopathology and humour as Kruger, a mercenary who cusses like a drunk rugby supporter at a braai.

There is an allegory here about how we cannibalise each other for our own gain and about how impossible it is to separate our destinies (people in boomed-off golf estates, take note).

The problem with Elysium is, yet again, script development.

If you are going to make a Hollywood blockbuster, make use of that machine’s rewriters.

No man is a film making island.

Blomkamp makes use of some fun sci-fi conventions, like brains as computers and the exoskeleton Max wears, though the fact that it has been put on over his clothes bothered me.

How the hell does the guy shower?

As for Elysium, it is fitting that it is shaped like a traditional sheriff’s star because the defence needed to keep paradise free of poor folks costs a lot more than a couple of wars in the Middle East.

Slick and watchable with its Dainfern/Diepsloot references, I just wish it was as original as District 9.

I felt I had seen it before. There are too many unanswered questions about daily life in Blomkamp’s created worlds and his characters lack empathy.

Also, humanity’s lack of evolution is wrist-slittingly depressing.

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