dir: Neill Blomkamp
Before I watched this movie, I'd heard that it was a thinly-veiled attack on the kinds of people who think the unwashed, unhealthy, unwealthy masses should be desperately scrambling after medical treatment like a bunch of low blood sugar office workers fighting to the death over the last donut. Those people, I guess, think health care should be no more a common right than everyone having the right to gold-plated flying unicorns.
These people, I believe, are called conservatives. They're trying to do the 'right' thing by conserving the precious and scarce amount of health care that's out there, because, let's face it, poor people don't deserve health care, they'd just end up wasting resources by living longer, moochier lives.
So when I heard these claims about a flick I hadn't seen, I thought it was the usual outrage bullshit propaganda these 'types' of people invariably come up with, along with blaming everything on Communists, Jews, Gays and Lesbians, Single Mothers, Dark Skinned People, or combinations thereof. You know the types of people I'm talking about: they're called idiots.
Now that I've watched the flick, though, I can say one thing with no qualifications or qualms: Elysium is a science-fiction action flick which is totally, totally about health care, especially the American version of it. It’s not thinly veiled at all. No veil to be seen. It’s not even an allegory: I think it’s a documentary.
See, it doesn't make that much sense to me that a South African director like Blomkamp would give a damn about the affordability of American health care. Surely his nation has plenty of other issues he can transform into fodder for his films. District 9 took South Africa's legacy of racism and apartheid and transformed it into an allegory where humanity abuses a race of aliens for fun and profit.
In Elysium he, or at least the screenwriters and such, take the uniquely American (at least in the Western world) idea that only the wealthy deserve to access health care, and turn it into a science fiction story where only the wealthy have access to health care. Oh, there's sci-fi elements to it, and plenty of action, but the plot at least isn't a stretch. It might as well be a documentary.
Of course I'm joking. No-one seeing scenes in a flick where a huge space station looms in space is going to accept that instead of allegory, instead of subtext or satire, the bitter conflict that persists to this day over who should be able to access America's health care resources is going to play out as 'text' directly, because, space station? But the meaning is clear.
It's some time in the future. There's a space station in the sky. The mega-wealthy live on the space station, lying next to pools and swanning around like they don't have a care in the world. The slightest physical ailment prompts them to get into these medical units that look a lot like tanning beds. These tanning / medical beds can fix anything, and I mean anything. The most serious problems can be fixed in minutes. The system works.
The system works if you're the 1 per cent of the 1 per cent. You see, letting poor people use these machines wouldn't be fair to the hard working layabouts of Elysium, as the space station is known. Well, they don't really work or anything, but they do run things in the fanciest and most exclusive way possible. Power has its perquisites.
These people, if we can call them that, regard the Earth like an embarrassing relative from the past, like a refuse heap teeming, seething with worthless subhumans scurrying around like angry ants, who aren't worth more than the minerals in their bodies.
As well, and this doesn't help their sociopathic disdain for the earthbound, all of the Earth now looks like one big Mexican/Johannesburg slum.
At least the States looks like that. Desperate people, desperately ill people try to force their way into this celestial gated community using shuttles, and the authorities blow them out of the sky, the ruthless bastards.
It's the perfect embodiment of the conservative concept of "I've got mine, buddy, and fuck the rest of you, because the more you get, the less I have". The argument over scarce resources is never mentioned, we're not informed of any reason why this almost magical medical technology isn't allowed on Earth. One machine could heal thousands of people a day. But it just wouldn't be right. Letting the poor access this stuff would be Communism!
Max (Matt Damon) doesn't accept that. He has a shaved head and neck tattoos. No-one's going to tell him what to do or not to do. As a life-long criminal, Max doesn't seem like the kind of chap who'll accept the established order of things or who learns from his mistakes, or who bathes very often. But he is trying to make a go of it in the 'straight' world by fighting the impulse to commit violent crimes for money.
In what could pass for irony, the iron rule of Elysium is maintained by legions of robotic police, who are at least a little bit more reasonable than most of the cops I've ever met. Less sexual harassment as well. Being robots, though, they're incapable of appreciating nuances or mitigating circumstances. Their job is to keep the plebs down by all means necessary. The irony is where Max's 'straight' job is in the construction of the very enemies that plague him through much of the flick.
In a world as shitty as this, it should come as no surprise to us that Workplace Health and Safety isn't a high priority either, and Max's horribly cowardly supervisor contrives not only to abuse Max when he hasn't done anything wrong, and has had his arm broken by those droid police, but also causes a accident that leaves Max with a five-day death sentence. UNLESS he can get to Canada. No, UNLESS he can get to Elysium.
How's that for sufficient motivation?
In a scenario that has plenty of bad guys, an entire space station of villains, for some reason they needed Jodie Foster here. She speaks French all the time, but when she speaks English, she has a delightfully inconsistent South African accent, or Seth Efrikin eccent, if you prefer. She's just nasty, blonde and ruthless, and there's probably a racial component to her hatred, seeing how Aryan she seems to be. She already hates the poor, so it's not a stretch to guess that racial hatred is also behind her plan to overthrow the President of the floating Wagon Wheel in space, who seems to be an Indian chap.
Of course she could do a better job. Who better to be in a frighteningly powerful position of power than someone willing to do anything, including killing countless people, in order to get and hold onto that power? Conflicted, morally questioning people like me wouldn't be able to cut it in the slightest. With someone like me in power, the barbarians would overflow the gates and I'd be busy making a pot of tea for them, to say howdy and welcome, folks!
But then I probably would have given them a couple of magical medical tanning beds just to keep them pacified and away from my floating pleasure palace in space. I also wouldn't have it so close that they could see it and envy it all the live long day. It's just like what Hannibal asks Clarice Starling in Silence of the Lambs: How do we begin to covet? Do we seek things out to covet?
Clarice, or Jodie Foster figures out we begin by coveting what we see every day. The luxurious space station is asking for it, begging for the resentment of poor people, every day. There it floats, like a haughty tease, like a provocation, daring the poor to aspire to its heights and depths, while ensuring they can never come close, because their first crime was being born poor, one which they can never be forgiven for.
It seems like there's a lot of premise, but not a lot of plot, but the reverse is true. There's a lot of plot to get all the pieces in place, to get Max and the various people around him in position for things to fall in place and then fall apart. I can't say I was that interested in the plottier aspects of it, the premise was enough for me. And the action is serviceable, probably better than serviceable. As much as I disliked elements of District 9, it showed me at least that Neill Blomkamp was a decent director of action sequences, though probably not as strong on the political / moral / dramatic aspects, but the strengths of that flick were drowned out by irritating cinematography and clumsy pseudo-sociological exposition delivered by talking heads. Way too much of that.
Well here, as if he heard the thoughts in my head, no, I'm not saying he did, my medication is working fine, thanks for asking, he cut all the extraneous stuff out, pared it down to all it needed to be. It seems like it's all about saving Max's life, or saving a little girl with cancer's life (they should have had her clutching a wounded puppy at the same time), and about upending The System, man, but when it gets down to two burly guys beating the crap out of each other, it focuses exclusively on that. I indicated earlier that Jodie Foster was the main villain, but the real main villain is her henchman Kruger (Sharlto Copley, who played the lead in District 9 as well), who is a gleefully sadistic brute with too much facial hair.
When Kruger is introduced, he looks like some lumbering homeless person who you would give a dollar to if he asked because he's terrifying. But then he starts killing bunches of people with ease and comfort and relish. I can't say I understood much of what he was doing, or why, and sometimes his genuine Afrikaner accent is impenetrable to my ear, but he was a welcome presence. I guess. His scariest moment isn't when he's wearing military-grade battle armour, and is about to start kicking Max around, it's when he's singing a creepy Afrikaner lullaby to a sick child he's threatening with probable murder.
All in all, despite the fact that I thought I would have a mediocre time, I really enjoyed this. It looked great, it somewhat held together, even if I have no idea how Elysium even worked, how it had an atmosphere, and why there weren't poor people working at Elysium. I can't imagine the 1 per centers were doing their own laundry or cleaning their own toilets. In the end, though, who doesn't enjoy watching a bit of class warfare writ large for the big screen every now and then?
Oh, wait, I know who doesn't like seeing that kind of thing: the kinds of fuckers who wish they were the ones up on Elysium, spitting down on the rest of us with each turn of the station's wheel.
Boo, hiss, hoot: the villains are sometimes in the audience and not on the screen!
7 times it's always a pleasure to see directors make Matt Damon look ugly out of 10
“What is in the bag?”
- “Hair care products, mostly.” – I don’t much care for those apples, Matt – Elysium.