I had been anticipating the release of Elysium (2013) since I first heard about it early this year. This captivating blend of sci-fi and drama seemed like a must-watch for an avid moviegoer like myself. Honestly, what’s not to like about this Neil Blomkamp release? The storyline appeared very engrossing, not your garden-variety offering. Plus, the film threads pressing contemporary issues such as the third world, poverty as well as class disparities. The injection of thespian star power adds to the excitement. Furthermore, I have witnessed Blomkamp’s calibre in his previous production, the highly commended District 9 (2009). One film was all it took for me; the blend of ‘sumptuous visuals’ and killer story lines made a believer out of me.
I finally watched Elysium on the silver screen a few weeks after the Australian release. The production was definitely worth the wait. Nil complaints at all from me, this film pushed all the right buttons. The action sequences were done admirably without overplaying the picture’s hand. Matt Damon was as stellar as he’s been, and his standout theatrics led a cast that was a joy to watch. Mr Copley was likewise fabulous as Damon’s nemesis, the doodad-toting, rags-wearing badass who looked like he hadn’t showered in half a decade. He was such a benevolent, unshaven madman that everyone with half a heart watching was pining for his head. As mentioned earlier, the cinematography was niftily done and delivered the goods for a summer blockbuster: precise, fresh and a feast for the eyes. One gets the impression that everything is well-placed, timely and hits the mark. All is suave.
However, let this not detract from the more consequential theme of the work. Behind all the wondrous scenes and acting is the sad reality of the third world and the bulging disparity between the latter and the West. Any serious evaluation of this text requires delving into this underpinning. This groundwork is there from the first time that we see the adult Max (Damon), where we are confronted by sweeping shots of a damaged planet. We are taken into the world of District 9, but this time we perceive the whole microcosm as a dump. While everyone is grinding it out and squashed together, the lucky few sip champagne in the idyllic Elysium. The power struggle is captivating and thumbs up to Blomkamp for wielding sci-fi with these pressing social issues. Racial tension in District 9 as well as class disparity and struggle in Elysium is far from a purely cognitive experience, but also a visceral one. I would even go so far as to purport that Blomkamp does this storytelling in a way that nobody else could offer. He presents us with a novel approach, an innovative outlook. The art of storytelling has sadly been waning among his contemporaries so seeing him chronicle with flair is reassuring.
The third world is far from being an outdated cartographical concept. This exists and will persist, even though some would prefer to turn a blind eye. The world is simply not divided into the West and the rest, or the bourgeois and the proletariat. The news might be foreboding, but there are much deeper narratives at work here. The third world is not as it is, bureaucracy, corruption, misgovernance – these are some things that need to be nipped in the bud. Yet our humanity is what is at stake here: ‘to err is human….’ The vicious cycle rages on and so does the unsettling news. In the meantime, we can enjoy Elysium and be swept by canopies of clutter on Earth. After all, it’s a jungle out there.