I think every day that goes by, we get closer and closer to sci-fi movies with dystopian futures than an incredible world with colourful clothing like in the Jetsons. Among many movies with this theme, Elysium is futuristic, but it couldn’t be more present.
How many times we tire of seeing news of crescent social inequality, resources growing thin, constant nature destruction, negligence from public powers, segregation and corruption?
We know those subjects are more than frequent on media – and that changed our vision of the future.
While in the 60’s they foresaw an incredible and beautiful future, with flying cars, prosperous households, robots caring of houses and an automated life that brought hapiness, nowadays we foresee the future as something dystopic and apocalyptic, with corruption, segregations, destruction of nature and we even accept the idea of Earth exodus as something inevitable.
Although it’s set on the future, the movie Elysium criticizes our society as a whole, showing how much it matters to think about others and not accept all orders from public powers if we know they are wrong.
Today, our lunar train will take us to a space station in which everyone who lives there is in comfort and prosperity – while the rest of humanity lives in a dying Earth. Fasten your seatbelts and get ready for our next stop: Elysium.
Neill Blomkamp and his Sci-Fi Works
I, Artemis, am used to watching sci-fi movies with my dad. It’s by far his favourite genre and, because of that, it ended up as one of mine. Therefore, both of us always get excited when we find new movies or directors on this genre that are worthy of being watched.
That was Neill Blomkamp’s case! One of my favourite directors nowadays – because, up until now (2020), I’m not disapointed at any of his works – Blomkamp is a director, producer, screenwriter and animator from South Africa.
The first movie I watched by the director – and his first big cinematographic production as far as I know – was District 9, from 2009. My father watched it and gave me soon after, saying “watch this ’cause you’ll like it”. After that, whenever I or him sees something from the director, we watch it, because we assume it’s going to be good.
Although it’s on the sci-fi genre, Blomkamp’s work is filled with social criticism. In District 9, for instance, the director talks about social segregation – but, instead of using races as a difference, he uses segregation between humans and aliens, whose ship broke above South Africa and they can’t go back home, living in a slum on the margin of the population who treats them like animals.
(also with a criticism to the corrupt and unscrupulous government that thinks more about weapons than lives)
His next movie was Elysium, from 2013, that got me really interested because of Wagner Moura and Alice Braga on the cast (go Brazilian representation on Hollywood!!) – who made an amazing job by the side of Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.
And right after, in 2015, we had Chappie – also an excelent movie that talks about, mainly, the matter of conscience in artificial intelligences, making us question to which point is ethical to turn off a robot with a conciousness and if that might be a murder – after all, in order to have life, conciousness is needed.
In 2017, the director founded Oats Studios, an independent studio for the production of short movies, being distributed mainly on Youtube – always counting with good actors and great productions.
Here’s the Youtube link to see the channel and subscribe if interested: Oats Studios.
Elysium: Criticism to Governments, Society and How the System Works
Elysium was released in 2013 with an awesome cast: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Wagner Moura, Alice Braga, Diego Luna and Sharlto Copley – the last one always present on the works of this director and an actor who, in my opinion, deserved many awards for the variety of characters he manages to play with such veracity.
The plot is set in 2154, in which the privileged part of population lives on the space station Elysium – a perfect artificial habitat, where any diseases or wounds are quickly treated, guaranteeing a long and comfortable life to its residents – while most part of the population lives on a polluted, destructed, overpopulated Earth, controled with an iron fist by the police.
Max (Matt Damon) is a normal man who lives in Los Angeles and works for the Armadyne company, on the robot production line. He was previously arrested for car thefts and finds himself on parole – and that’s when we see the first evidences of an intolerant system that treats everyone like numbers, mainly when Max has to visit his parole officer who is an intolerant robot that treats him according to statistics programmed on his protocol.
Frey (Alice Braga) is Max’s childhood friend, working as a nurse in a constantly crowded hospital without the bare minimum to attend its patients. With a sick daughter, Frey does her best to care for her girl and for those who need her help.
During a normal day of work on the production line, Max finds himself with a problem on one of the radiation chamber doors, beeing that it’s jammed from the inside of the chamber. Threatened by his boss to lose his job if he doesn’t go in the chamber to unlock the door and needing it to live a normal life, Max goes in and ends up taking a lethal radiation charge.
Once again treated as a number, his employers barely care about his accident and the fact that Max will die in 5 days. With this new perspective, he goes after Spider (Wagner Moura), a hacker responsible for taking people illegally to Elysium, as long as they pay for their tickets.
Meanwhile, in Elysium, Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is the Defense Secretary responsible for “maintaining the way of life of that habitat intact”. Without hesitation when it comes to killing innocents from Earth who just want a cure for their diseases and a better life, Delacourt is responsible for using a mercenary agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley), to destroy the spaceships before they get to the space station.
In order to be taken to Elysium, Max accepts a job for Spider: stealing data stored on the brain of one of Elysium’s citizens – the chosen victim is the CEO of Armadyne, who treated Max as a nobody when he suffered his workplace accident. What they didn’t know is that Delacourt planned a coup with the CEO’s help, who built the core of Elysium and knew the programming neccessary to change it, so she could become President and rule it the way she wanted to preserve the habitat.
The movie makes evident the social segregation between privileged people and those who didn’t have that many opportunities, apart from opening wide how, usually, privileged people have a way of helping those in need but choose to maintain their own way of life intact – seeing the less privileged as invaders that arose to end their prosper and idyllic peace in which they were born.
It doesn’t cross their minds that maybe if sharing those more than enough resources to everyone involved, all can have a better and fairer life.
Another subject the movie brings us is how many settle for how the system works, just because “it was always like this” and “that’s how things are”. This kind of thought makes the character of Max – in my opinion – fit more like an anti-hero than a hero per se.
And that’s because his character shows, many times, traces of selfishness – with a few days of his life left, he worries only about his own survival than other people’s problems, exactly like those who live in Elysium, always with good conditions and completely blind to other’s problems.
However, this changes throughout the movie. As we follow his fight to go to Elysium and save his own life, we also see how his character begins to understand everyone deserves that which he fights so fiercely for. And, like that, Max goes from a selfish anti-hero to someone who makes a sacrifice so others can have better opportunities.
At the end, Max decides to face the system and not accept things like they are just because the more powerful ones made those rules. If the rules are harmful and exclude the minorities, they need to be changed.
And that’s exactly what the movie shows: with all the power to do what he wants with the codes saved on his own brain – including becoming the President of the most powerful place of humanity – Max chooses to help those in need, changing a system that worked only for those who were born with that privilege (in a way to make anyone emotional, regardless of how you’ll express that emotion).
Therefore, the politics fight to maintain that system, meaning maintaining the comfort of those who were already born in that condition and controlling those who were born in different conditions so they wouldn’t aspire better positions/lifestyles.
With a negligent and corrupt government, worried with protecting the interests of those who judge themselves more important mainly because of their purchasing power, the portion of the population who wasn’t that lucky finds themselves marginalized and without perspectives of a better condition – even though they represent the biggest part of humanity.
Among all that, we also see how important it is to have a public health system without the interference of political and financial interests – meaning a health system with the goal of providing it to the population as a whole, not mattering to whom or how much the person in need has.
On the movie, good health conditions are reached only by those who have the financial capability for that – even though good health is a Human Rights guarantee.
How many times we see people without treatments and medicines or forbid to do exams and surgical proceedures because they can’t afford it? Many cases that could be solved in an easy way end up being lethal because of the heinous pricing of a treatment on the private health sector.
The very name of Elysium comes from the Greek Elysian Fields, being the paradise on Greek myhtology mantained by the gods, with no huger, diseases or war, only for those allowed and with enough virtues to be part of it.
The movie leaves the questioning: what would be that virtue, after all?
Those who inhabited Elysium were – on its majority – corrupt, elitists, blind for other people’s suffering and clearly selfish, having on their hands the ways to help others, but opting not to do it so it wouldn’t ruin their way of life. Is this the kind of virtue that made them worthy to live a life of privileges? Money can buy their indulgence letter to paradise?
The more you watch Elysium, more questions arise. Each time you watch it, new details are found and points of views you hadn’t seen before. The social criticism to inequality, segregation, extremism and corruption is always current and with many facets to be analysed. All this wrapped in a package with excelent acting, magnificent visual effects, well done action scenes and a carefully thought visual.
What always remains, though, is that it isn’t because things are that way, that they were really supposed to be: one must not accept what’s wrong simply because that’s how the system works; they need to do what’s on their rech for something to change.
The world won’t be a perfect place, just like human beings will never be perfect. But with everyone’s actions, even if they are really small, it’s possible to change something for better.