It’s the end of the twenty-first century. All of the big problems that kind of threaten us in a vague maybe-ish someday way today have blossomed into a full-scale dusty global cloud of sepia toned urban smog. There’s overpopulation, pollution, and poverty on a mass scale. It’s an authoritarian state, everything enforced by robot police officers. You can’t even talk sarcastically to the droids or they’ll beat you up and maybe send you to jail.
But if you’re rich, everything’s fine. You live on Elysium, this giant Halo-like space colony orbiting the earth. Not only is the scenery lush and green, the citizens well-dressed and manicured, but health care has reached its apex: the elites lay down on these medical beds where everything from cancer to radiation poisoning can be almost instantly cured.
Elysium, to me, is the reason why we elect Democrats to office. All of the current social and political debates of today are embellished, exaggerated to such effect that the world in which this film takes place is at times totally alien, yet sometimes hauntingly a reflection of the present day. The disdain that the upper class exudes toward everyone else boils the blood, “Don’t breathe on me,” a corporate executive interrupts an underling for talking to his superior without covering his mouth.
The rich relax in the skies with their “I’ve got mine” security separated comfortably by the planet’s own atmosphere. Everyone else on the ground is a means to an end, to higher profits and revenues. I think about all of the fast-food workers holding these one-day strikes for a livable wage and I see the factory workers in Elysium get bossed around, threatened with their jobs, exploited for as much work with as little compensation. Profit, profit, profit.
Everyone’s desperate to get to Elysium, to use the medical beds, to escape what the previous generations – our generation – have left of the earth. We hear the words “illegals” a lot, “security,” “liberty,” it’s all of the same issues that we debate about now, how much to give to what people, do people truly deserve anything in this life?
Matt Damon’s character, Max, grew up in Los Angeles, and due not so much to character defects than the simple fact that the circumstances of his life suck, he’s in and out of jail, getting beat up by robot cops for no reason, working on the line at a factory that manufactures the same robot cops that then patrol the streets looking to beat him up again.
When he’s involved in an accident at work leaving him with just five days to live, his yearning turns to desperation as he agrees to wear a surgically attached robot exoskeleton with orders to fight his way to survival. Fortune winds up turning a simple heist into a political battle for control of Elysium, and Max finds himself being hunted down by Kruger, Sharlto Copley, the same South African guy from District 9 (also written and directed by Neill Blomkamp.) He’s traded in his bureaucratic government shirt and tie for a beard, cloak, and a giant sword. Kruger is a highlight of the film. I don’t know if it was his relentless cannot-be-stopped character or his creepy almost unintelligible accent, but his very presence on the screen made my skin tingle with static-like charge.
Elysium is over the top, but it’s everything that true sci-fi aspires to be. Like Alien, like his previous District 9, Blomkamp has taken all of the negative aspects of modern society and imagined them to run their course for about two hundred more years totally uninhibited. The result is everything that us liberals are afraid of: corporate supremacy, misery, dystopia, the haves and the have-nots on an extreme scale. It made me think about justice, about distribution, about the fact that we currently have the means to feed the world’s population, but we lack the political will to spread the wealth. How is this all going to sort itself out? In which direction are we headed as a species? I certainly hope that our future resembles nothing like the world of Elysium.