Tag Archives: Dystopia

Movie Review: Elysium

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.

Futurology Part XVIII

Let’s think about the future some more. The future used to be so much cooler. Look at Back to the Future Part II. Our optimism was running so high, that when Marty McFly travelled to 2012, it was a techno-paradise. There were hoverboards. You could make a pizza go from the size of a dime to the size of a real pizza, right there in your kitchen. Every wall was a giant TV. Cars could fly. And did I mention hoverboards?

This vision of the future wasn’t sugarcoated either. It wasn’t perfect. Future Marty McFly still lived in kind of a dumpy house. He still got chewed out by his two-tie wearing boss. There were still truckloads of manure ready to be crashed into. That future was wondrous and marvelous and all that, but it still looked real.

The worst type of futures are where everything is too perfect. Like look at Star Wars. Everything is crisp, deluxe, clean, a little too clean. I don’t remember seeing any dirt anywhere in the entirety of the two trilogies. Nobody ever goes to the bathroom. Tattoine doesn’t count, because that wasn’t dirt, it was sand. Also, the ice planet Hoth doesn’t count either, because it was frozen. Now that I think about it, even when Luke and Han Solo spent the night together inside of that mountain yak’s stomach, they made it back to the base the next day looking cleaner than ever. That doesn’t make any sense at all. It’s not a convincing future. I know, technically Star Wars took place “A long time ago,” but seriously, spaceships, droids, light-sabers. Call it what you will, it’s a vision of the future.

At least when my parents’ generation was making films about the future, they were at least somewhat optimistic. They had enough whimsy to think about hoverboards and self-pumping sneakers. Whenever people imagine the future now, it’s always dystopian wasteland this, apocalyptic nightmare that. The Road just came out a year ago. I didn’t see it, but apparently the whole world was shot to shit. The Hunger Games. I never saw that either, but I read the plot on Wikipedia, and it didn’t seem like they had a great outlook about humanity or society. Prometheus, well, I didn’t get to see Prometheus either, I’m still waiting for it to come out on Netflix, but I saw the trailer, and while all the technology looked cool, I mean, it’s a horror movie, right?

Look at Wall-E. I know that all of these movies have long-term hopeful messages about humanity, but it’s way too long-term. As John Maynard Keynes famously said, in the long-term future, we’re all dead anyway. In the short-term future, the best that we can think of right now is massive destruction and planetary relocation. And seriously think about Wall-E for a second. Everybody on Earth moved onto that spaceship? I don’t buy that for a second. There’s no spaceship big enough to hold every person on Earth. We can’t even feed or clothe every human being on Earth, there’s no way we’re going to have some sort of smooth moving process, an “OK, single file everybody, there’s plenty of room on the spaceship for everybody, no pushing please, we promise, nobody’s going to get left behind to die.”

I’m telling you, I bet like ninety-five percent of the population got left behind. Weren’t all of the people living on the spaceship white? I don’t remember. But weren’t all of the babies being born in test tubes anyway? Why would they only breed white test tube babies? What kind of a future is that?

Imagine that our Earth started dying, fast, and the government made a huge spaceship for us all to relocate to. We would all claw each other’s throats out just to make sure that we got aisle seats. And then there would be the deniers, the people that say, “This is bullshit! The earth is fine! I’m staying and so are my followers. And not only that, we oppose the creation of any spaceship for anybody! We believe that everybody should stay here on this planet with us!”

And the news would have stories saying stuff like, “Where are they getting the money for this giant spaceship? Are your taxpayer dollars being spent wisely?” It would never get done. We’d all go down with the dying Earth. Not all of us. The mega-rich would just build their own, private, luxurious spaceships. And they’d be the ones to repopulate the cosmos. Assuming that’s it’s not already repopulated somewhere else. It has to be. But that’s another topic entirely.

Man, the future is scary. Maybe it’s because the present is so scary. Maybe I’m scared of too much stuff. Wall-E wasn’t really supposed to be a horror movie, was it? I mean, it was a kids movie, right?