Neill Blomkamp – Elysium
Words: Michael Batchelder
Elysium shows us a dystopian future where the wealthy have fled to the titular luxury space station, and the poor are dying in the disease-ridden slums that now cover Earth. In this vision of the future, the wealth gap has far surpassed today’s meteoric number, and Earth’s residents constantly attempt to reach this intergalactic paradise to access the lifesaving medical care, but are often killed in the process.
Elysium and director Neill Blomkamp’s first feature-length film District 9, have a good deal in common, both in their stunning visuals and in their storytelling. District 9 was set in Blomkamp’s hometown of Johannesburg and served as commentary of apartheid-like segregation and violence. Elysium, meanwhile, tackles immigration and healthcare.
The film begins with Max DeCosta (Matt Damon), born in an orphanage and now a factory worker with a history of stealing cars. After an accident at the factory where Max is exposed to radiation, he realizes his only chance for survival is to get to Elysium.
Earthlings, however, are banned from Elysium. His only way to reach the station is by engaging in the dangerous mission of hacking a prominent CEO’s brain and downloading critical data from his brain (it’s the future after all) in exchange for a one-way ticket to Elysium. Damon is excellent as Max DeCosta, a role similar to past characters he has played, such as Jason Bourne in the Bourne Trilogy.
Opposite Damon is Jodie Foster, who plays Elysium Secretary of Defense Delacourt, whom we first see shooting down immigrant spaceships trying to reach Elysium, and killing dozens in the process. Foster seems one dimensional in this role, and we don’t learn much about her other than that she really doesn’t like immigrants. I’m also not sure what sort of accent Foster was attempting to pull off in this movie, but it just didn’t work – her performance is especially disappointing given her talent and filmography.
The special effects in this movie are excellent, especially the way Elysium has been presented with mansions and greenery along the outer ring. I would have liked to see the film spend more time here and learn more about this place. Instead, it’s constant violence and fighting from the time Max begins his mission until the end of the movie.
Technically, the film is daring and inventive. Especially in contrast to an action genre overwhelmingly dominated by sequels and superhero movies, Blomkamp’s commentary at times seems smart and poignant. Still, Elysium’s sanctimony sometimes reaches tedious levels, demonstrating that subtlety is not Blomkamp’s strong suit (he also wrote
the screenplay). The few people of Elysium that we actually see are greedy snobs, hoarding all of their wealth and technology to themselves while the people of Earth are dying. The story would have benefitted from more complexity, even among its villains, or at least more character development, especially for its central characters like Delacourt, about whom the viewer knows hardly anything. Even Max is rather unremarkable and unrelatable. I left the film thinking far more about the action and the special effects than I did any of the characters.
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