Elysium Neill Blomkamp (Usa 2013)

Elysium Neill Blomkamp (Usa 2013)

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Elysium Neill Blomkamp (USA 2013)
Matt Damon; Jodie Foster; Wagner Moura

Viewed Empire Cinema 3 Sept 13
Ticket: £3.75
The more remarkable Sci Fi films that I
have seen have been memorable, because in some way they left me with
a thought; which is a nice present to get from a movie. Ridley
Scott’s allegorical Blade Runner posed a question about the nature of
what it means to be human; Kubrick’s parable, 2001 contrasted the
unknowable vastness of space/time in the face of man’s ineffable
smallness; Don Siegal’s filmic metaphor, Invasion of the Body
Snatchers – probed the manifestation of political paranoia.
Whilst stylistically Blomkamp’s movie Elysium owes big time to these
precursors, the impression left by Elysium was one of confusion and
incoherence. It is a mish mash of forms, as if Blomkamp couldn’t
decide if Elysium was one thing or another, parable or blockbuster.
But in the end the motif of personal quest wins out. Elysium’s
commitment to the mega production values crushes all the light out of
the social forces that are initially set into play.
I can’t say if Elysium is a good or bad
movie; that depends as to whether you like your sci-fi bean feasts
served up as a spectacle of special effects and combat; or if you
prefer to leave muscular machinations to the men from Marvel and look
to the Sci fi genre for some cogent expression of ideas.

Anyway Elysium prompted within me the
following observations.
The film’s initial set up divides
planet earth into two contrasting worlds: Elysium and old Planet
Earth. Elysium is where the rulers and controllers of Planet Earth
live. Elysium is a vast tubular ring set in geo-stationary orbit,
modelled as an idealisation of American suburbia: with meadows,
colonial houses, lawns and 2.4 kids. The inhabitants want for
nothing ( materially at any rate) and every home has a very handy
healing machine that cures all ills. Aside from these images we are
given almost no hard data about Elysium. Are they practicing
Mormons? Scientologists? We are not told. Though some might think
on viewing Jodie Foster’s performance as Madame Delacourt, the evil
thin controller, less is more.
Opposing Elysium is dirty old planet
Earth, a slave colony of Elysium. Its population live in vast shanty
towns, oppressed and terrorised by Elysium controlled robots. The
earthlings do not have handy healing machines at home; if sick they
have take their chances in the familiar surroundings of chaotic
overloaded general hospitals.
Wardrope has kitted out Elysium people
with designer suits, very good teeth and expensive haircuts: Perhaps
the clever machines do grooming as well. Earthlings wear stuff from
Primark or patched up rags, with bad teeth and worse haircuts, with
the notable exception of Frey protagionist Max’s sweetheart. You
see immediately that these are two different peoples.
Now this setting of opposing worlds is
a situation that South African Blomkamp will be familiar with from
the continuation of Apartheid era racial and social divisions of his
native country. It is a familiar also in the geophysical division
between Israel and the Palestinians. So, the opening of Elysium
suggests a story that will have a political premise and hence a
certain underlying social weight pushing the narrative forward.
This is a bit of a shock! Elysium is a
Hollywood movie. Will Hollywood caste aside 40 years of resolve not
to make political films and allow Blomkamp to produce a transparently
political allegory. Bless its cotton socks! Of course not. For 40
years Tinsel Town has made films about personal acts of overcoming,
movies with individual self determination at their core of their
scripts. This is not going to change in 2013. Next year – maybe.
Although Blomkamp’s script has an
opposition organisation on Earth, it’s never clear what this
opposition actually wants and as the film progresses any latent
treacherous political tendencies are subverted and transposed to the
acquisition of desire: a desire for something everyone wants: a cure
for cancer.
Of course the provision of Health Care
has a symbolic significance in Apartheid situations such as Gaza,
where Palestinians can only access advanced health care in Israel.
But it is symbolic. Health provision is seen only as part of the
wider issue of repression. In Elysium it becomes the whole issue.
With a trick of the script, the political is flipped over and becomes
Max’s quest for health. Tragically over exposed to radiation in the
course of his assembly line work, Max has to get cured or die. And
the only cure in town is on Elysium with one of those nifty machines.
The plot driver becomes personal not political, and the story
regresses to a simplistic series of CGI battles as he takes on those
who would deny him the right to live.
Max’s quest is given legitimacy in the
scripting by the fact that Frey’s little girl, Matilda, has leukaemia
and so needs one of those Elysium machines. Noting President Obama’s
recent claim that: “it would be immoral not to go to war when small
children have been gassed…”, we can see that children’s stock has
high currency value these days. Children in Hollywood have long
played the role of moral validators. As American Political Life
increasingly imitates Hollywood, so Hollywood repays this tribute in
trumps as violence and war are ultimately justified by the child.
Final thoughts: firstly the idea of
exo-skelitans as in Iron Man, is gaining increased leverage on the
popular imagination. Elysium’s script again services the idea of
mankind overcoming personal body limitations by the fusion of the
mechanical and the biological. Secondly: Blomkamp again exploits the
computer age and its love of the technical fix. Solutions must be
instantanious. A computer is plugged into the master server and at
once a wholescale social about turn is effected: the inhabitants of
Elysium and Earth become one inclusive society. And of course those
handy omnicure machines: lie down count to ten and you’re healed,
except interestingly the machines cures the body but not the mind,
I said that Elysium did not leave me
with a thought. Well not immediately. But whilst writing this piece,
a thought happened. Perhaps the ELYSIUM as a manifestation of
Hollywoods belief system is correct in anticipating the demise of
politics in the face of individual desire. Perhaps the National
Health Service was the precursor to ushering in the post political
era. Now there’s a thought. Not perhaps one intended by Neill
Blomkamp.

Adrin Neatrour

adrinuk@yahoo.co.uk

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Elysium coda:

A brief addition to my comments about
Elysium. It occurred to me when watching Elysium that Hollywood
suffers from a kind of belief system envy syndrome in relation to
Jihadists and their jihad. However misguided and misled the West
believes them to be, there is no doubt that the religious motivations
and intentions of the Jihadists are pure. Their objectives are not
contaminated by personal goals and gains; they fight for Allah.
Jihadists believe in the religious legitimacy of their struggle. To
fight for Allah lends the warriors the lustre of martyrdom and
justifies the atrocities and destruction of war, exonerating such
extreme practice as decapitation. To have such a clear super
personal goal to fight for, places Hollywood in an asymmetrical
ideological position vis a vis Jihad.

Hollywood scriptwriters have to justify
the actions of their protagonists in the name of something as
nebulous and imperfect as American democracy or the freedom to chose
between MacDonald and Burger King. This simply does not have the same
resonance as fighting for a religious ideal. Hence the strange
ideological void at the centre of action movies such as Elysium;
there is simply nothing there only personal desire.

And in Elysium it was interesting to
see that decapitation of one’s enemies, a primal primitive impulse
perhaps but religiously legitimate in the eyes of Jihardis, is on the
cusp of a certain level of acceptance by Hollywood. The baddie,
Spider attempts but fails to decapitate one of Max allies. But Max
himself does triumphantly decapitate an android robot. Thus taking a
couple of timid Hollywood steps towards legitimising imitation of the
Jihadist practice of humiliation of the foe. The problem being such
an extreme practice needs a clear ideological or religious stamp of
approval.

Author: Adrin Neatrour

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