Elysium looks like a pretty straight forward action sci fi caper in which Matt “Jason Bourne” Damon realizes the dream of an egalitarian society, fitted out in an exo-skeleton.But hold on, why did I think I was watching a huge comment on the Israel Palestine conflict.Its because planet Earth in the year 2157 looks exactly like the West Bank, dusty with low-rise concrete houses in narrow crowded alleys populated with children in ragged clothes.But where is Israel, the oasis of luxury and calm, what political commentators call a piece if yuppy California in the middle east?Well it isn’t on earth anymore.Its a gigantic resort hanging in the sky called Elysium, mocking and teasing the seething suffering populace below.And why is this spaceship Israel? Because it has a giant Star of David (not exactly, it’s missing a spoke) set into two concentric rings.
This is the South African director Niel Blomkamps second film, who is his brilliant District 9, created an apartheid like scenario with aliens being segregated and confined in a ghetto, in a brilliant turning of tables and political allegory rolled into one.This time he builds in the Palestinian cause into a sci-fi film with so much dexterity that its hardly being spoken about in the mainstream media.Another burning issue is highlighted by denying earthlings the kind of cutting edge medical care that is available to the privileged inhabitants of Elysium.While little children suffer and die of curable diseases, almost miraculous cures lie unused on Elysium.
But the primary purpose of mounting a big budget film like this is to entertain and sell tickets, and in that department Mr Blomkamp delivers to a satisfying degree.We have Matt Damon a former car thief turned factory worker who is trying to earn his ticket to Elysium, the hard way.He soon finds himself leading a mission to Elysium which can change “everything”. Growing up he was told by a nun that he is special, the chosen one, à la Neo from Matrix.And he is wearing an exo skeleton in the year 2157 that a recent CNN news item told me is already available to wealthy amputees in the West.So much for sci fiction! And there are no smartphones or tablets in sight, they have good old laptops, so Mr Michael Dell can breathe easy and buy back his company, a move that after Elysium looks like a masterstroke.
And there is Jodie Foster, in a slinky silver suite, the picture of ruthlessness and real-politic, killing desperate souls trying to gatecrash the Elysium party with a remote control punching nonchalance now associated with the Drone program. But sadly hers is more of a presence than a performance,that of a very stern Jodie Foster, with her petite frame and sharp features covered in a patina of oil.She is a sight to behold, I kept thinking of the vulnerable and very human Clarice Starling of Silence of the Lambs.
The plot springs zero surprises, and is even silly and shallow in patches when the President of Elysium, a certain Mr Patel, undoubtedly of American Gujarati stock (a sly reference to Mr Modi and his US visa issues? No! I am reading too much into it, control yourself mostlycinema!!) is disposed off with a perfunctory maneuver. Mr Blomkamp has expended all his energy into embedding his political agenda into the film with great stealth at the cost of plot and character.The special effects are good and the action sequences are well shot and entertaining. The pacing of the film is pitch perfect and it delivers a throughly enjoyable film that offers opportunities to look at some of the big-ticket items of global politics with a new telephoto lens.But the powers that be don’t give a rats ass for movies do they?
Watch Elysium for a fix of very good quality sci-fi action thriller with an excellent cast and grungy gadgetry that has none of the design flourishes of Apple Inc we saw in Oblivion.I wondered afterwards about what is achieved by projecting our current problems 150 years into the future so that we are forced to regard them as being distant and even fictional.In downplaying its political message, the film does not serve the cause of the oppressed or sick at all.