I feel like there has been a sort of renaissance of science fiction of late. It started slowly with independent pictures like Moon, growing until last year's Prometheus was a big deal. After that we had things like Looper and Oblivion, continuing the trend. One of the fathers of this new sci-fi movement is South African Neill Blomkamp, who blew us away with 2009's District 9. Now he is back with a new effort called Elysium. It is a chilling vision of the future that refuses to be only an escape from the dog days of summer.
Elysium takes place in 2154, by which time Earth has become insufferable to live on. The solution? An off-planet refuge free of disease and poverty. The trouble? It is accessible only to the rich and powerful. Our hero, an ex-criminal named Max (Damon) becomes ill from radiation exposure and decides to do whatever possible to get up to Elysium in order to save his life.
The thing with Blomkamp's work (so far) is that it is tremendously socially conscious and to me, most of Elysium is not about one man's struggle for survival and justice, as I've just synopsed. It is a disturbing an oddly realistic portrayal of capitalism taken to its psychopathic consummation, and of intolerance leading to national borders being made along monetary, rather than political or cultural lines. It is a story of solvable problems left alone to fester and grow. His version of L.A. doesn't have any of the seedily-romanticized underground culture it might have in, say, Blade Runner or even Terminator. It looks more like a slum in Mexico City or a favela in Rio de Janeiro. And how many of us are comfortable with that?
It seems to echo a little bit of Ray Bradbury, who was so good at showing us the darker side of ourselves through seemingly innocent or even "benevolent" acts. In an attempt to make life better, the designers and inhabitants of Elysium create a polarized social situation between classes and monopolize things like health care and employment. These aren't problems we create for ourselves on purpose, but we create them for ourselves nonetheless.
Another thing I enjoyed was the international element in the movie, a movie not necessarily intended for an international audience. The first lines are given in Spanish. The actors come from places like South Africa, Mexico and Brazil. Foster's character is a French woman. This in itself is a portrayal of the growing internationality of the world, something the world of Elysium can't quite cope with.
I'm glad that there is another thoughtful and though-provoking science fiction movie for us to chew on. It isn't necessarily a perfect movie, but I don't think a movie needs to be perfect to be enjoyable. At any rate it is a genre that has been spread a little thin until recently, and I'm pleased at its apparent comeback.
Elysium is rated R for swears and violence, and features Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, Sharlto Copley and Alice Braga.
by Chase Harrison