Produced and distributed by TriStar Pictures and Sony Pictures Entertainment
Directed and written by Neill Blomkamp
Neill Blomkamp’s second film, Elysium, is, in a way, a sequel to his first, District 9. This time, however, there are no eight-foot-tall prawn-like aliens accusing earthlings in Johannesburg, South Africa, of the crime of apartheid or insensitivity or cultural indifference or something. (This assumes the first movie was an allegory of racial injustice in Blomkamp’s home country. District 9 has garnered other interpretations, however. To date, no one seems to know Blomkamp’s purpose with anything like certainty, and our auteur has craftily kept his own counsel. Why get the Yanks in a tizzy? Better to play along with their own prejudices.)
In Elysium the giant shrimps have vacated the premises to make way for other aliens, illegal Mexicans who have taken over Los Angeles, overpopulating and befouling the city and, I suppose, the rest of America, if not the world. Meanwhile, the wealthy, fed up with underclass behavior, have decamped to the ultimate gated community, an antiseptic space station where they can sip cocktails by their marble pools and sneer at the losers below, scrabbling in the dust for their daily bread.
As a meditation on class difference, Blomkamp’s script is quite childish. It’s even less subtle and far less entertaining than H.G. Wells’ extravagant fantasy of class warfare, The Time Machine. Yet it has alarmed our cultural guardians at FOX News who, no doubt, would have attacked Thomas More for writing that upsetting little book Utopia. (It advocates economic justice for all! You know what that means!) They’ve roundly denounced the film as propaganda. Newsmax charges it with socialism. Even Scott Foundas in Variety, a publication devoted to cheering on the entertainment industry, had this to say in another wise, laudatory notice:
Elysium . . . advance[s] one of the more openly socialist political agendas of any Hollywood movie in memory, beating the drum loudly not just for universal healthcare, but for open borders, unconditional amnesty and the abolition of class distinctions as well.
Learning this, the so-called conservative blogosphere went apoplectic. Just who were Blomkamp and his pampered Hollywood star Matt Damon to inoculate innocent Americans with a political strain deadlier than the Bolshevik plague? Of course, Blomkamp and Damon deny having any such intention. They’re shocked that anyone would think their fun film is at all political.
It’s difficult to say which is the bigger leg-pull: the charge or the denial. Whatever the truth, the brouhaha is profitable for the commentators and film producers alike and, what’s more, provides us average folk with considerably more amusement than the movie itself.
In the film’s dystopian narrative, Delacourt (Jodie Foster), a woman steelier than our own Hillary Clinton, is Elysium’s ever-vigilant secretary of defense, responsible for keeping the smelly “illegals” off her satellite. She fully honors her floating realm’s name: Elysium, in the classical world, was the felicitous region reserved for the worthies chosen by the gods. Still, the poor insist on coming. They’re packed into slow-flying transports, which are usually incinerated before landing, done in by their rulers’ weapon of choice, the drone. (I’m quite sure I saw President Obama’s seal gracing one of these missiles before it made fiery contact with a lumbering craft crammed with illegals.) Foster looks on heartlessly, her jaw so clenched with determination that she’s rarely able to articulate a fully intelligible sentence beyond ordering her functionaries to “Hit those transports” or “Get those illegals off this habitat.” This doesn’t stop the underclass, however. They don’t want their betters’ pools and lawns, crystal and china. They want access to the medical care reserved for the wealthy. Every Elysian house comes equipped with an ultimate MRI, a machine that does far more than scan your innards. These babies cure whatever’s ailing you. Have you broken your arm, developed cancer, or, perhaps, carelessly allowed a colleague to shoot your face off? No problem. Slip into a scanning tube, and 20 seconds later, you’re as good as new. No wonder the impoverished are willing to hazard the trip to Elysium. And there are no copays, either.
This is certainly what motivates Max (Matt Damon) when he discovers he’s been exposed to massive radiation at his factory job, where he spends his days working on the androids that enforce the entire class structure of splendid Elysium and squalid Earth. Naturally, his corporate overlord has no intention of seeing him healed on Elysium. Max seeks out his former buddy Spider, whose underworld connections might be able to smuggle him into Elysium. Spider can, of course, but there’s a cost. Max must acquire data from one of Elysium’s elites—data Spider hopes to use in his ongoing mission to topple Elysium’s regime and share its wealth and benefits with everyone. A vengeful Max chooses the uncaring corporate overlord as his target. Serendipitously, he turns out to be Delacourt’s defense contractor, a billionaire industrialist not surprisingly bearing the name of the Bush family’s favorite global-asset-management firm, the Carlyle Group. This is John Carlyle (a frostily subzero William Fichtner), who has just completed a computer script that will reboot Elysium’s entire droid-enforced system and install Delacourt as dictator.
Spider’s technicians fit Max’s skull with an electronic port with which to siphon the state’s codes from Carlyle’s skull. They also drill a metallic exoskeleton into Max’s bones to provide his deteriorating body with sufficient strength to accomplish his task. This, as you doubtlessly know, works every time, and Max succeeds in downloading the contents of Carlyle’s brain mere seconds before Carlyle’s bullet-ridden demise. To Spider’s great delight, he discovers that Max has handed him the “keys to the kingdom.” Immediately, he devises a plan. He will use the nefariously crafted script to rain down equality upon the earth. With the right tweaks, the omnipotent computer system can, upon reboot, make every human being a citizen of Elysium! Then, of course, the now-friendly droids would dispatch healthcare to every infirm man, woman, and child, and spread democracy over the entire planet.
Unfortunately for Max, the wily Carlyle has encrypted his data with a lethal sort of firewall: If anyone else attempts to execute his script, he will die instantly. Of course Spider is happy to goad Max toward his doom, all for the Greater Good. Max, however, is determined to look out for Number One.
On his mission, Max is wounded by warrior robots and must seek medical care at a local hospital. There he meets his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga). They had grown up in a Catholic orphanage. (Nice to know the Catholics are still in business in 2154.) Frey is now a nurse, and, as she treats Max, he tells her that he’s going to Elysium to cure his irradiated body. She asks if she can come along so she can cure her daughter of leukemia. Max refuses: The trip would be pointless, as the healing machines require an Elysian citizen’s identification, which is stamped onto the flesh and (somehow) coded to the individual’s DNA—a provision the resourceful Spider has made for Max. When Max reaches Elysium, he’s pursued by Kruger (Sharlto Copley), Delacourt’s psychotically sadistic agent. And what do you know, Kruger has Frey and her daughter in tow. He paused long enough to kidnap them as he hunted Max on Earth. So, as in a just-so story, the stage is set—clumsily—for the final showdown, and the hero is hoist on the horns of a dilemma.
You’ll never guess what happens.
Does Blomkamp condemn the rich, does he plead for universal healthcare, and does he demand open borders? In spades. Furthermore, he makes Max the sacrificial agent who may bring all this to pass. In flashbacks, we learn that Max was prepared for this Christlike role by a kindly Mexican nun who cared for him at his orphanage. When one day he told the good sister that he wanted to go to the beautiful Elysium he’d noticed in the sky, she told him that some things were beyond his reach. Still, she continued, he was going to be a special person and would have a suitably special destiny. That destiny, of course, is the one the adult Max plays out in the film, the very same that has given the folks at FOX News such a twist in their knickers.
You just can’t trust those Catholics, what with their compassion for all peoples, even those with darker complexions who lack investment portfolios.