In a season of antiseptic effects spectacles, “Elysium” stands out thanks to its grime and intensity, as well as the bluntness of its class allegory. The film won’t win many points for originality or logic. But it’s strange how rejuvenating it is to watch a movie that attempts new ways to repackage “Mad Max,” “Blade Runner,” “Robocop,” and other influences by Kathryn Bigelow and David Cronenberg.
In the film, it is 2154 and Earth has been ruined by disease, pollution, and overpopulation. The people with money live on a space station called Elysium which can be seen in the clouds from Earth. Max (Matt Damon) grew up watching Elysium from his rundown Latino neighborhood in L.A.. He’s lucky to have a job now working in a grueling factory job he’s told sneeringly.Anyway, Max is just trying to get by day-to-day life ina society that doesn’t care about poor people like him very much.
It’s not simple. In the midst of a dirty, crowded metropolis plagued with congested streets and filthy hospitals, a robot police force makes arrests without discrimination, with no apparent restrictions on violence. Sentencing is carried out automatically by a droid with the same crackle you hear when ordering at a drive-thru. Max has just weeks to live after being exposed to radiation at the plant. He’s done for unless he can reach Elysium, where healing pods heal all illnesses in seconds.
In this film, we follow the defense secretary (Jodie Foster) who is fighting for her right to use unlimited force in order to help a small number of people. She shoots down refugees trying to land on Earth, which is a commentary on the immigration debate. With the help of a shady CEO (William Fichtner), she’s also planning a coup back on Earth. Max’s attempt to find and steal data from the latter guy, which recalls “Strange Days”s memorable sequence in which the hero and his former auto-thief partner (Diego Luna) chase this bigwig’s plummeting corporate jet, is one of the film’s most excitingly absurd sequences. In doing so, they discover that he not only has critical information stored in his brain, but also meet a much larger conspiracy than they could have anticipated.
“Elysium” is a film abundant in topical allusions, drawing from an international cast. Writer-director Neill Blomkamp’s previous work, “District 9” (2009), was flagrant Apartheid allegory, and there are thread of that here as well. It is surely no mere coincidence that the Foster character speaks with a South African accent while peppers their dialogue with speeches reminiscent of those given by Cheney or Goldwater. Additionally, “Elysium” references the healthcare debate and widening income gap; however, it falls short of offering anything valuable or insightful beyond the observation made by a child at one point that helping others tends to make friends.
“Elysium” does not have the same power as “District 9,” but it is more consistent in its filmmaking. (This time, there is no abandoned mock-documentary device.) In addition to Foster’s character, we also see Sharlto Copley as a villainous and volatile felon henchman who may be one of the most cruel presences we’ve seen on screen recently. When he confronts Max’s childhood buddy, a nurse (Alice Braga) with a daughter (Emma Tremblay) suffering from leukemia, he pretends to be compassionate: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to commit violent acts in front of children,” he laughs, leaving the audience on edge.
“Elysium” is an interesting enough film that its many logical issues can be overlooked, but much of the story doesn’t make sense. For example, the medical pods. The movie provides no clear indication of how many there are, and their ability to heal almost seems like resurrection. This feels less like a believable vision of the future and more like a screenwriter’s way of keeping favorite characters alive.
Max and Spider’s goal to provide Elysian citizenship and healthcare to every person on Earth is admirable, however the movie does not try to discuss the scarcity problem that allegedly created this dystopia. We only see Los Angeles in the film which makes us wonder about what has happened elsewhere, while also wasting an opportunity for creativity.
The idea of class disparity is hardly unique to “Elysium,” having been used dating back at least to the movie “Metropolis.” In fact, recent standards in the subgenre have far surpassed “Elysium” in this regard. However, as a vehicle for putting Matt Damon in a bionic getup on a messianic action quest, it has enough going for it to make up for its lack of originality.
Now playing on Cinema HD.
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner
Distributed by: Sony Pictures Releasing
Release dates: August 7, 2013 (Taiwan), August 9, 2013 (United States)
Running time: 109 minutes
Country: United States