Elysium Space Station
Elysium is a sci-fi action adventure movie starring Matt Damon as Max, our hero, Jodie Foster as Delacourt, evil baddie, and Sharlto Copley (of District 9
– one of the best sci-fi movies ever in my opinion) as Kruger, psychopathic hit man of the baddies. It is set about 150 years in the future when the Earth is an over-exploited, over-populated, ruined slum, and the wealthy ruling elite have hied themselves off to a vast luxury space habitat called ‘Elysium’ – named after the ancient Greek conception of heaven, reserved for gods and heroes.
And that, in a nutshell, sums up the message of this movie. If we see the slum-ridden Earth as the over-exploited, crime-ridden, poisoned shitholes of today such as Mexico and South Africa (Neill Blomkamp is director also of District 9), and Elysium as, say, the wealthy USA – or even better, Monaco, reserved for the wealthy and corrupt super-rich elite who (one presumes) see themselves as gods and heroes (or perhaps we do), then our metaphor is more or less complete. The poor people risking their lives to fly to Elysium are like the poor Mexicans taking huge risks with their lives, paying gangsters to smuggle them across the US border.
The people of the slums speak Spanish much of the time, which can be no accident. The elite are the Hamptonite politicians of the USA and other connected super-rich elites. Jodie Foster is made up to look remarkably like scandal suspect and French politician Christine Lagarde, and even speaks the historic language of the elite, French, but only to her friends and equals: to workers, even on Elysium, it is English all the way. This too, can be no accident: the use of French is entirely unnecessary otherwise.
Sharlto Copley as Kruger in Elysium
So what is this metaphor saying? Well, maybe it’s becoming a bit of a cliche, but obviously it is reminding us once again that we, the ordinary people, are being ruled by a corrupt and evil elite. It is reminding us, with the frequent use of violence in the film (such as police robots breaking Matt Damon’s arm while they search his bag), and with the total neglect of the well-being of the poor population of Earth, that our great and good leaders rule us by force, and not by the ‘consent’ that they so often claim. Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s ‘Social Contract’ is a moral fraud because one cannot be party to contract that one has neither seen nor signed nor has no possibility of cancelling nor re-negotiating. The movie is saying that we the people are simply being farmed like slaves to keep the elite in their Summer homes and expensive suits. Usually in movies the bad guys are corporate bosses, but here the finger is perhaps pointing more accurately at the top aristocrats of our societies, and at their pet politicians too.
Elysium Movie Poster Matt Damon
Whether and to what degree you accept that message, is of course up to you, but there it is. Social philosophers such as Noam Chomsky
and Stefan Molyneux
might be of interest to you if you want to investigate these matters more.
Does the movie work? Well, I certainly enjoyed it, I enjoyed the acting. Sharlto Copley, as seems to be usual with him, was particularly good, and Matt Damon and Jodie Foster were keeping to their consistently good standards. The special effects were very nice – as a sci-fi fan, I certainly loved the design and look of the space station and hope that many of these will be built, and soon.
Doctor Who Smilers
Elysium Parole Officer
Max’s parole officer was a rather strange character – an ancient-looking dummy. And didn’t I see such a character, a ‘Smiler
,’ in an episode of Dr Who a couple of years back? The Smilers of Dr Who had a similar role to the Parole Officer of Elysium: they managed the punishment of miscreants such as Max.
Elysium Chemrail Gun
I also wondered why one of the guns Max uses was labelled ‘Chemrail.’ Does Neill Blomkamp believe the chemtrail conspiracy theories
about us being quietly poisoned from the skies? And what is the meaning of the four Cyrillic letters ‘Dest’ on the back of Max’s exoskeleton headset (see the poster showing the back of his head)? A phonetic reference to District 9 perhaps?
Elysium Poster Matt Damon 02
There are of course, many implausibilities, or inconsistencies, in the story. It seems nearly impossible not to have a blockbuster without them. In this case, I didn’t find them fatal to my enjoyment of the movie, but they are worth pointing out. The worst, for me, were (spoilers ahead) to do with the computer data at the centre of the plot. After receiving a lethal dose of radiation, Max has to get to Elysium or die, so he goes to his gangland people-smuggling ‘friend’ Spider (Wagner Moura) and gets the job of using some gadget to steal passwords and other such data from the brain of one of the elite and boss of the factory where he got his overdose, John Carlyle (William Fichter). This is OK, as we are shown that Carlyle is a scumbag like the rest of the elite and cares nothing for his workers. As it happens, Carlyle has been secretly commissioned by Delacourt to write a program to reboot the software of Elysium so she can stage a coup, designating herself as President. Carlyle quicly writes the program, encrypts it and loads it into his brain along with a defence mechanism: downloading it from his brain without inputting the correct codes will be fatal for him.
Elysium Billionaire Homes
Or so it seems. Because Max downloads it without killing him (a stray bullet does that instead). But the data is scrambled and Damon can’t tell what it is. Well, maybe that’s the encryption? But no, because when he takes it to Spider, he downloads it from Max’s brain (without killing him) and can read it with no problem, and can immediately see that it is a reboot program for Elysium. Hmm. Later, at the end of the film, downloading it into Elysium’s computer system is indeed fatal for Max. Well, it seems to me that’s not much of a defence mechanism if this encrypted code can be read by anybody anyway. Spider could have rewritten it himself in 5 minutes and saved Max the trouble of dying. Mind you, how Max managed to fight and survive multiple beatings and stabbings from Kruger while suffering from fatal radiation poisoning is pretty miraculous anyway, despite his exo-skeleton fighting frame.
Another issue is the happy ending (apart from Max’s death: he will probably be made a saint in due course). Spider sets the reboot so that everybody on Earth becomes a legal citizen of Elysium and so entitled to free medical healthcare – and the medical shuttles immediately begin zooming down to Earth to heal the sick. It made me feel good, but it is of course over-Utopian, and some would say, Socialist (shock horror). Personally, I don’t think the Socialist/Capitalist argument is to the point anyway: they are both just methods various elites use to control the rest of us and are equally propped up by the non-consensual use of force. The point is to stop them using force. In the film, Max and Spider’s methods could arguably be seen as a form of self defence, and so moral. But arguably it still amounts to a further use of force, and it is therefore inevitable that a new elite, with Spider in charge, will soon be telling people what to do: despite his good intentions, it’s all he knows. So despite what the film tries to tell us, the problems of an immoral society are unlikely to be solved at all if we use the elite’s own methods to get rid of them. On the other hand, maybe it worked: at the end a robot refuses to arrest Spider, saying, “I cannot arrest this citizen of Elysium.” As everybody is now a citizen, the elite will have to resort to using armed humans to bully their former slaves. Not that that would take them long, of course. Room for a sequel here?
None of these objections to the movie are that serious, however. As blockbusters go, this one is reasonably consistent, has a clear message, and states it plainly enough that most of the audience will be able to spot it if they spend a few seconds thinking about it as cynically as I did. Director Neill Blomkamp might perhaps consider hiding his messages a little more deeply, as Stanley Kubrick apparently felt necessary, in case the elite get too antsy with him. Or, maybe, times are different now and the elite are standing on shaky ground. Who knows? So: what’s the overall score? I give this movie a pretty solid 8 out of 10. Entertaining and well worth watching, and thinking about.