Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Subversive sci-fi

Satire examines social stratification... with explosions

  • Print

With his second feature film, writer-director Neill Blomkamp cements a specialty for himself in science fiction that is also, front and centre, social critique.

With explosions.

Following closely in the template of his impressive 2009 debut District 9, Blomkamp's Elysium is set in 2154 in a world where the term "social strata" has been rendered literal. The Earth, polluted, overpopulated and disease-ridden, is unfit for habitation by the ultra-wealthy (presumably the very people responsible for the planet's decay), so they live above it all in a wheel-like space station where they can maintain a lifestyle of sunshine, manicured lawns, mansions and at-home medical units where cancer can be cured as quickly as it takes to photocopy a prescription.

On the ground, things are more dire, especially for ex-con Max (Matt Damon), who commutes through the sprawling squalor that is shantytown Los Angeles (reminiscent of the South African townships of District 9). Max is routinely brutalized by robot cops, ignored by robot social workers and given dangerous assignments in the robot factory where he works.

After becoming the victim of an industrial accident involving heavy radiation, he is given five days to live. With nothing to lose, he contacts an old criminal confederate named Spider (Wagner Moura) who has a plan to stage an invasion of Elysium, where Max can be cured. Raising the stakes for Max is his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga), whose terminally ill daughter could also stand to be on the upper tier of Earth's two-tier medical system.

This places Max on a path with Elysium's ruthless Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster, who doesn't seem to have a real handle on the icy villain thing) and her brutal minion Kruger (District 9's Sharlto Copley, who very much has a handle on the psychotic killer thing).

As movie scripts go, Blomkamp's is wonderfully pertinent, simultaneously evoking the immigration debate currently raging in the U.S., as well as the widening divide between the ultra-wealthy and the rest of us. The depiction of Elysium's Bel Air-like environs are deliciously satiric.

But Blomkamp cannot resist the lure of tech, whether it is the muscle-enhancing exo-suit Max has drilled onto his body, or the mountain of visual effects going on behind the camera. By the time the finale comes, we're a little exhausted by all the robotic smackdowns, the explosions and the sundry violence.

As a sci-fi satirist, Blomkamp evidently is standing on the shoulders of director Paul Verhoeven (RoboCop, Total Recall), a guy who enjoyed nothing more than lavishing his movies with gory/freaky/explode-y visual effects.

But given his subversive intent, one wishes Blomkamp could be a little more inspired by the cerebral Stanley Kubrick, whose forays into satire — Dr. Strangelove, A Clockwork Orange — managed to achieve classic status without a gratuitous fight scene every five minutes.

 

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 9, 2013 D1

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

WRHA says discrimination contributed to Brian Sinclair's death

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • The sun peers through the fog to illuminate a tree covered in hoar frost near Headingley, Manitoba Thursday- Standup photo- February 02, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • STDUP ‚Äì Beautiful West End  begins it's summer of bloom with boulevard s, front yards  and even back lane gardens ,  coming alive with flowers , daisies and poppies  dress up a backyard lane on Camden St near Wolseley Ave  KEN GIGLIOTTI  / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS  /  June 26 2012

View More Gallery Photos

About Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

His dad was Winnipeg musician Jimmy King, a one-time columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. One of his brothers is a playwright. Another is a singer-songwriter.

Randall has been content to cover the entertainment beat in one capacity or another since 1990.

His beat is film, and the job has placed him in the same room as diverse talents, from Martin Scorsese to Martin Short, from Julie Christie to Julia Styles. He has met three James Bonds (four if you count Woody Allen), and director Russ Meyer once told him: "I like your style."

He really likes his job.

Poll

Do you think it's a good idea for Theresa Oswald to enter NDP leadership race?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google