“Rich people plan for three generations. Poor people plan for Saturday night.” Gloria Steinem
Elysium takes place a hundred years from now and Earth is one big, over-crowded slum. It doesn’t matter what happened but it must have been nuclear. It’s dangerous to breathe the polluted air. Anyhow, the extremely rich have abandoned Earth and moved to an artificially-constructed world in space. It’s a step up from Heaven where robots do all the work and take orders. Elysium is efficiently run by security chief Delacourt (Jodie Foster).
I’ve been to South Africa, home to writer/director Neill Blomkamp. Our driver took us to a hill overlooking the famous Kibera slum in Nairobi, Kenya, the largest slum in Africa and third largest in the world. We refused his suggestion of a tour of the slum, shocked at the idea of gawking at poor people from a car window. I did not know it was a favorite spot for tourism.
I’ve been to Rio de Janeiro many times, but still have not done the very popular “slum tour”. Today at least seven tour operators operate tours in Rio’s Rocinha – the largest favela in Brazil – and visiting the location has become a “must do” for many foreign tourists. It is estimated that at least 3500 tourists visit Rocinha every month paying around $35 for a tour with an average duration of 3 hours.
Even Madonna got into the obligatory “slum tourism” experience in 2008 when she toured – with bodyguards – Mumbai’s crowded Ambedkar Nagar slums. Madonna spent nearly 45 minutes with the impoverished residents, who gave her gifts of orange bead-and-coin necklaces.
Why didn’t Madonna tour the notorious red light sex slave industry district of Mumbai’s
Kamathipura? Just saying, it would have brought the shocking ordeal of trafficked enslaved girls and children to the media’s attention.
Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) lives on diseased Earth. He recalls his childhood in an orphanage run by nuns and his first love, Frey (Alice Braga). Now he is an ex-con who has a real job in an industrial factory owned by John Carlyle (William Fichtner). Carlyle’s company supplies most of Elysium’s construction and replacement needs.
Life on Elysium is so fantastic that all illnesses are instantly repaired. Every home comes with a machine that rebuilds, renews, and even starves off death! One’s entire blasted-off by a shotgun face can be instantly repaired!
The problem on Earth is that not everyone is allowed on Elysium. Should they? Even though I have done nothing to deserve or earn it, I’d like to live on one of the fabulous villas on Palm Jumeirah overlooking the Persian Gulf.*
Max has an accident at work and is badly injured. Prognosis is death in five days. That is, unless he can hop on one of those home-made space vehicles that tries to get to Elysium. When one does make it past Elysium’s security, Delacourt takes it upon herself to have it shot down. Nevertheless, Earth’s desperate keep trying.
For Max to get a special seat he has to agree to do a nasty piece of work for crime lord Spider (Wagner Moura) to kidnap Carlyle and download the contents of his brain which holds all the secrets of Elysium. Changing the security codes will allow everybody access to Elysium and the most important thing: free medical care.
Did you know that a non-Muslim is not allowed to enter Mecca?
Max’s childhood sweetheart Frey has a terminally ill daughter who needs to get to Elysium.
Delacourt has an Earthbound henchmen, Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who, even though he has access to Elysium, prefers to reign terror and bloodshed on Earth. He’s also wildly underpaid for what he does. He lives in a shack and hasn’t changed his clothes in ten years. Who showers on Earth anyhow?
Max needs to be refitted with a new body and a device that is implanted into to his head that can be linked to Carlyle. Successfully prepared, Delacourt summons Kruger to find Max.
What I love about Blomkamp (his 2009 film DISTRICT 9 was sensational) is that his films have a highly personal view of life. He has something to say about society. However the injustice, there have always been walled cities (Fez, Morocco has a fantastic one) and the modern application is the gated community. In many countries in South America, there are small towns with its own infrastructure (reserve power supply, sanitation, and security guards). The purpose of such a community is to protect its residents from exterior violence. While most gated communities have only houses, some bigger ones, such as Argentina’s Nordelta, have their own hospital, school, shopping mall, and more.
Unlike Mongolia, where I just came back from a three week trip, strangers are not welcome.
Blomkamp’s view of society is one that is happening now though we cannot clearly see it as the rich versus everybody else. The obscenely wealthy like to keep us in the dark and blissfully happy with our cheap 70” flat screen TVs. The problem of Elysium is that all the people on Earth can see it moving slowly through space.
Damon is terrific and engaged. Foster has the right stern approach to her character and a wonderful accent that is slightly South African in its texture. Copley, who never acted in a movie before Blomkamp chose him for the lead in DISTRICT 9) nearly steals the film from the rest of the cast with his orgasmic lust for violence.
I really liked ELYSIUM and intend on seeing it again. It’s a thriller that is thrilling and with a powerful point of view. The production of the Earth scenes was extremely well-done.
*The Palm Islands are artificial islands in Dubai, United Arab Emirates built to be sold to millionaires. The islands are only reachable by motorboat or plane. Do you think there are slums there?
I visited Saudi Arabia once. I was given a black abaya to wear and we were followed by a presidential-style motorcade. Foreigners wishing to become citizens of Saudi Arabia have to have “points”. Citizenship is granted based on achievement and contribution to Saudi Arabia in fields such as medicine, development, and research. Or, citizenship can be granted through a Royal Family decree which means the king may grant citizenship to a foreigner.
Victoria Alexander is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association: www.bfca.org/ and the Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/. Victoria’s weekly column, “The Devil’s Hammer,” is posted every Monday. http://www.fromthebalcony.com/editorials.php.
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