Some broad spoilers ahead for the end of Elysium.
Going into director Neill Blomkamp’s latest film Elysium (which came out on Blu-ray earlier this month) I assumed it was pretty much the same machine as District 9, his previous film, but with more Matt Damon shaped pieces.
Luckily I was wrong.
Where District 9 serves as an allegory for South Africa’s past, Elysium is more of a warning, a fearful depiction of a dismal worldwide future.
Elysium is a pretty space station. Fans of the Mass Effect franchise will appreciate the aesthetic. It’s a science fiction paradise, free of aging and disease, in which the world’s wealthiest 1% live out their lives with the less fortunate 99% out of sight on the crowded, filthy Earth below.
Enter Matt Damon, a reformed street criminal who’s trying to turn his life around by working in a factory that builds the very robot police force that keep Damon and his fellow destitute in check. Side note: said factory is also woefully unconcerned with safety. Queue irreparable workplace accident and a series of events that lead Damon on a quest to wear an exoskeleton and take back health care from Jodi Foster and the snobs in space.
Damon turns in a solid performance as Max. He’s no Will Hunting, but the character fills the role of blue collar science fiction hero well enough. Unfortunately, Max also fills the somewhat dated role of white savior to the disenfranchised minority.
In a dilapidated Los Angeles that’s pretty much entirely Hispanic, Max the token destitute white man, overcomes adversity and balances the scales between the fascist Haves and the helpless Have-Nots.
It’s an undertone that’s barely underneath anything. Unlike District 9, where the argument could be made that it wasn’t so much a white man bridging the gap between the abused and the abusers as it was a human being, Elysium is pretty in your face about Matt Damon being the porcelain lord and savior of a sick, Hispanic L.A.
Which is a bummer, because I like Matt Damon. He commits to the world and to the part and really wears the hell out of that awesome exoskeleton.
Damon stars opposite Sharlto Copley, you know, the white guy from District 9. Copley plays the subtly-named Kruger, something of a black-ops mercenary who is openly known by the government of Elysium to be a violent sadist. Copley is clearly having fun in the role and he manages to communicate a sense of violent perversion without the audience having to sit through a gut-wrenching torture sequence.
The world Max and Kruger occupy is setup splendidly.
The art direction, set design and costumes are all top notch and they all make the social hierarchy of the film abundantly clear.
It feels like classic, speculative fiction. The people of Elysium can cure cancer in seconds, while the people relegated to Earth risk their lives boarding pinto rocket ships, praying not to be shot down by Elysium’s defenses in the hope that they might get access to life saving medical treatment. The government of Elysium silently schemes around each other, ever hungry for power even when simply being in Elysium puts them in the top 1% of all humanity. The people of Earth scheme and plot robberies and data heists to make ends meet.
Science fiction is at its best when it melds aliens and robots and spaceships with the real world and the growing prosperity gap is not just a very real American issue, it’s a very real worldwide occurrence.
Unfortunately Blomkamp’s cautionary tale loses its legs in the end when the film’s finale takes a steep swerve for the melodramatic. The conflict in Elysium is not one that should have been resolved. Particularly by Christ-figure Matt Damon.
Elysium is at its best when Neill Blomkamp highlights the wrongs of the world. But it stumbles over the finish line when he concocts his own elementary solution.
1. Does Matt Damon’s symbolic role as a white messiah bug you, or am I reading too much into it?
2. Do Matt Damon’s abs bug you, or are you in shape?
3. If yes to the latter, A/S/L?