Written and directed by Neil Blomkamp
Starring Matt Damon, Jodi Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga and more
The best science fiction lets us more clearly see the very real world we’re living in today. When that world isn’t pretty, the sci-fi shouldn’t be, either.
Writer/Director Neil Blomkamp, best known up until now for “District 9,” is quickly becoming the master of excellent, socially-conscious sci-fi. His latest, “Elysium,” is a subtle, angry and wrenchingly beautiful look at the class divide, rebellion and the nature of heroism. Though it’s a hard movie to watch at times, you’ll be grateful you did.
The movie starts on a ruined Earth, where the mass of the population lives in dusty, broken slums and has to fight for every precious resource. The majority of people have turned to crime, and those who haven’t take menial jobs in factories that never quite pay enough.
Paradise is up in the sky, on a floating satellite called Elysium where all of the richest and most powerful people live. There’s clean water, beautiful trees, and machines that instantly heal everything from broken bones to cancer. The people on earth regularly risk everything to sneak up to Elysium even for only a few hours.
Delacourt, the head of Elysium security played by Jodi Foster, regularly makes them pay for it with their lives. Foster wraps the character’s conservative zeal around a core of the coldest iron, precariously balanced on a line between a lust for power and her fanatical but deeply held beliefs. She’s a nightmare vision of half the politicians on TV today, made all the more frightening by the fact that Foster makes her so easy to understand.
Max, played by Matt Damon, is a former thief trying to stay on the straight and narrow until circumstances force him to make a terrible decision. His main goal is survival, pure and simple, and though he tries to be a decent person the need for anything greater has mostly been beaten out of him. Damon bravely doesn’t shy away from any of the character’s faults, highlighting Max’s struggle so honestly that it’s that much more powerful when he finds something he will fight for.
Though Blomkamp can’t help but dip a toe into overt political commentary every now and then – Delacourt’s division just happens to be named Homeland Security – “Elysium” wisely avoids direct allusions throughout most of the movie. Few people care about the Occupy Wall Street movement anymore, but the pain of fighting to survive and never quite making resonates throughout time.
The movie’s one bright spot of hope (that doesn’t involve a small child, at least) comes, oddly enough, in the form of a crime boss. Spider, played by Wagner Moura, is a criminal who is happy to spend as much time acquiring money as possible. When he sees hope of becoming a true revolutionary, however, money and even his life don’t matter quite so much.
In the end, “Elysium” is about the things that do matter. No matter how dark the world gets, those things don’t die.