Set in the year 2154, where the very wealthy live on a man-made space station while the rest of the population resides on a ruined Earth, one man takes on a mission that could bring equality to the polarized worlds.
Back in 2009 the low budget movie District 9 exposed a different side of the sci-fi genre It had the perfect combination of futuristic mayhem, horror and political ties; making it a global sensation.
Now Director Neill Blomkamp is back to prove that his in no way a one trick pony with his new movie Elysium.
As with District 9, Blomkamp paints a pretty bleak vision of Earth. The planet is diseased and all of the remaining money had gone towards building an orbital space station dubbed ‘Elysium’. On Elysium the worries of Earth are far away, there is no risk of disease or crime they simply don’t exist. It has been created to be the perfect habitat to live in.
In 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a luxurious space station called Elysium and the poor, who live on an overpopulated, devastated Earth While residents on Earth are policed by ruthless androids, Elysian citizens live in comfort and regularly use man-sized medical devices called MediBays to keep them free of disease.
Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), a former car thief and parolee, lives in the ruins of Los Angeles and works at an assembly line for the Armadyne Corp., the company that built Elysium. But an accident at the plant exposes Max to a lethal dose of radiation, giving him only days to live.
In terms of the plot, in an unfortunate if not entirely predictable radiation accident at the factory where he works, Damon’s protagonist is dosed with enough gamma rays to make The Hulk jealous. It appears now his only hope is to manipulate a nervy hacker, who runs an illegal shuttle service to Elysium, to get him to there to use one of the futuristic “MediBays” – a sort of MRI scanner that can apparently mend any human medical ailment. All he has to do is steal some critical data that would “reboot” Elysium, and hey presto, he’s in… If only it were that simple.
Meanwhile, when a caravan of illegal immigrants from Earth attempts to reach Elysium, Elysian Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) orders vicious mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to shoot down the shuttles. Disapproving of her methods, Elysian President Patel (Faran Tahir) reprimands her. Delacourt, vowing to protect Elysium and her own power, bargains with Armadyne’s CEO John Carlyle (William Fitchner) to write a program that can override Elysium’s central computer and make her President. Carlyle creates the program in his office on Earth and uploads it to his brain for safekeeping.
Secretary Delacourt will stop at nothing to protect Elysium including ordering her troops to shoot down Earth’s inhabitants that try to sneak their way onto the precious planet. She has a right man man for her off the books torture sessions on Earth too. He is more beast than man, completely consumed with hatred and intent on causing as much pain and destruction as possible.
Max, knowing his only chance for survival is a MediBay, seeks help from notorious smuggler Spider (Wagner Moura). Spider agrees to get Max to Elysium only if he helps him steal valuable financial information from Carlyle, who is preparing to leave Earth. With help, Max intercepts Carlyle’s ship and uploads the data (including the program) to his own brain. However, Delacourt secretly deploys Kruger to rescue Carlyle and recover the program. In the ensuing firefight, Carlyle is mortally wounded and Max retreats to the house of Frey (Alice Braga), a childhood friend whose daughter, Matilda, has Leukemia.
The standout performance comes from South African Sharlto Copley, in a brilliant turn as sadistic Agent Kruger – an Afrikaner who works on Earth at the bequest of Foster’s defence team, carrying out all manner of ruthless malevolence. It’s clear that Blomkamp knows just how to direct his old pal Copley (just as he did in the superb District 9), as he shines in just about every one of his scenes – especially when throwing in some tasty Saffa vernacular.
There are a lot of incredible scenes and moments that effortlessly capture the feeling of a post-crash future that is a nearly airtight surveillance state. Though healthcare tech and robots are not distributed realistically through the human population, surveillance tech and weapons are. In just a few quick scene-setting moments, Blomkamp reveals how everybody — from the smuggler Spider to the Elysium government — have access to real-time satellite imagery that allows them to identify everybody on the planet, any time.
We get the impression that Spider has hacked into a satellite feed to get his data, and again this is solid world building. We see how surveillance technology would be used by a variety of people in different ways, ranging from illegally hacked to legally deployed. The same goes for the exoskeleton tech that Max wears to gain the strength of a droid. While Max gets a hacked-together, previous-generation exoskeleton, the Elysium mercenary Kruger has a state-of-the-art rig. Max’s weapons are also like knockoffs of Kruger’s.
This is how technological advances actually work in a class-stratified society. There is no impermeable barrier between haves and have-nots — instead, it is a leaky membrane, where tech gets through to the lower classes, who hack and reverse engineer it for their own uses. True, the rich have newer technology. But often the underground can hack into this new technology and take advantage of it too. We’re left wondering why Spider smuggles people up to Elysium to steal time on the medical pods when it would be a lot easier to steal the MediBays and hack them for use back on Earth.
Elysium is a great movie. It will make you think and also terrify you with its realism simultaneously.
By Ruth Walker