Elysium: The Future Is Now

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Posted August 19, 2013 by Matt Sculthorpe in Movies

 

Summer time is Blockbuster season. It’s the time the studios release their biggest projects to the movie going masses. The summer is my favorite moving going time. There is always something to see, and you can shut off your brain and escape the day for a couple hours. I’ve often defended this practice because movies are entertainment, and the awards season is right around the corner.  But every so often, blockbuster comes out that makes you think about what is going on in the world. It offers a reflection of the times while also being thoroughly entertaining. Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium is the latest film to do this, and it is does it well.

 

Elysium is set in the year 2154. There are two classes of people: the wealthy elite, who live on the utopic Elysium and everyone else, who remain of the overpopulated and ruined Earth. On Elysium, life knows no bounds, as the citizens have access to anything, including medical pods that heal any and all sickness and injuries. Elysium orbits Earth and of course, the people of Earth try to breach its border for its better quality of life. Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jody Foster) has made it her mission to stop these illegal breechings at all cost, even if it means loss of life. To do this, Delacourt utilizes a South African mercenary, Kruger (Sharlto Copely) as a sleeper agent on the ground, whose methods is brutal, but achieves the goals Delacourt wishes.  Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is trying to live his life the best he can, working the line in a droid factory, and trying to distance himself from his past as a car thief. Since he was a child, Max has dreamt of making it to Elysium, to get beyond his humble life. After an accident at work that leaves him with radiation poisoning, Max’s only option is to get to Elysium and access a medical pod. To do this, Max meets up with people of his shady past and winds up in a plot much bigger than he bargained for. While he is motivated with healing himself, Max ends up doing what is right for everyone, not just himself.

 

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Los Angeles 2145

 

Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp returns to familiar territory. In 2009, he burst on to the scene with District 9, and Elysium shares many of the same beats as its predecessor. Both films share the theme of social inequality (Blomkamp trades xenophobia for classism here), an unassuming hero pulled deep in to a conspiracy that only they can unravel and spectacular sci-fi action sequences, but Elysium is much more polished.  At its core, Elysium is a sci-fi blockbuster, but with the benefit of having something smart to say. Blomkamp utilizes both sci-fi setting tropes in Elysium: the dystopian Earth surface and the utopian Elysium. Blomkamp weaves a narrative between the inequalities of these two settings. For this there are the haves and the have-nothings. The station Elysium can be seen from the surface, hanging over the people as a reminder of what they don’t have, and the citizens of the floating community literally look down on everyone else. The citizens of Elysium have access to the best medicine, while the people of the surface get by with crowded hospitals. The surface citizens toil away in their menial jobs, afraid of angering the “Big Bosses” above. The event that irradiates Max is brought upon by his foreman threatening to replace him if he doesn’t put himself in a dangerous situation. Even though set in the future, the proble

Elysium

ms of the surface citizens are reminiscent of problems in the here and now. Blomkamp pulls no punches as to how he feels about this, but it only adds to the story. While told really well, the one part that doesn’t work for me is a subplot involving Max’s nurse friend Frey, who he promised as a child to get to Elysium, and her extremely sick daughter. It adds some unnecessary tension to the story and really only pays off to have Max and Kruger face off. Max is already set to go to Elysium and he could achieve his goal even without having a heart strings tugged at by a sick little girl. Max does fulfill his promise to Frey, but at what cost?

Not many directors can do what Blomkamp does so well, delivering a message while balancing action. And let’s not forget about the action; Elysium is full of it. From the time Max dons the exoskeleton suit, the story doesn’t stop on its focus: to get Max to Elysium. The action sequences are well directed and fit well in to the overall story. None feel extraneous, and while they are nothing we haven’t seen before, they are still big fun. The car chase scene that introduces Max to Kruger stands out. What starts as a simple heist-style job becomes a shootout as Max tries to procure the information he needs and Kruger shows up to stop him. It’s no secret that Blomkamp has been tied to a Halo film and sequences like this prove why he would be more than adept. Driving home the sci-fi aspect is the awesome technology of the future. I’ve already mentioned the Med Pods, which hunt out any and all illness on command. To get to Elysium, people use private spaceships for their commute and even the Earth dwelling black marketers have access to ships that they attempt to bring illegal immigrants to Elysium in. They aren’t as flashy, but they are there. What is really impressive is the weapons tech. Without giving too much away, each weapon has its own function and Blomkamp makes each one look really good on screen.

Inside all this sci-fi there are some really good performances. Matt Damon is as excellent as he always is and is more than proficient to play the put upon hero. His Max puts on a tough as nails demeanor but is made more of heart than anything. Damon brings a sense of care to the character that could have been lost on another actor. Jodie Foster is charmingly cold as Delacourt and speaks in short sentences and nothing more. She is motivated by here one goal to keep the lowers out of Elysium. The character is painfully underwritten but Foster does her best. The one actor who steals the movie is Sharlto Copely as Kruger. As great as he was as Blomkamp’s Everyman hero in District 9, he really turns it here as the psychotic villain who tenaciously hunts our hero and won’t stop until his goal is reached. Kruger is creep inducing and genuinely menacing. He takes pleasure in his kills and always seems to be on the verge of breaking down taking everyone out in the vicinity.

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Copely as Kruger

The best sci-fi reflects conditions of modern day and then puts them in an exotic location. Elysium is the ultimate class struggle tale. For the dwellers of Earth, Elysium is unattainable, but that doesn’t stop Max from dreaming of reaching there. It is the ultimate gated community built to keep the unclean out and caters to those who believe they are above all. It is always out of reach, a cruel joke played on the people toiling away in its shadow. To get there, Max sacrifices not only his body but also his soul. It’s in his journey that we see the depths people will go to try and achieve what they think they earn in life.

Elysium is a blockbuster with something to say, and that something is worth listening to.

Elysium is a well made sci-fi film that like the best ones comes with a message. Blomkamp makes it clear what that message is, but it is ultimately the journey of Max’s character that drives the rest of the film. GO SEE Elysium for a well told story and great action sequences, but don’t forget to think. Elysium is a blockbuster with something to say, and it’s worth listening to.


About the Author

Matt Sculthorpe

Resident film geek, enjoys Superman and Thor and survives the wilds of Las Vegas