Directed by Neill Blomkamp
After director Neill Blomkamp’s fantastic debut, imagine my surprise when I first heard of Elysium. I probably wasn’t the only one. With an estimated budget of 30 million, Blomkamp managed, against all odds, to make a beautifully crafted film with District 9. Now, he has been given more possibilities than before. Yet this highly anticipated summer blockbuster didn’t quite fulfill my expectations. While it’s got enough potential to shine, Elysium delivers a clear message, yet lacks the fundamentals of good filmmaking to an astonishing degree.
Set in 2154 is an Earth that has turned into a mess. Local gang members rule the streets of Los Angeles. People are desperately trying to come by, but life ain’t easy. In space, Earth’s finest and richest live happily ever after on Elysium. Elysium is an exotic and highly advanced space ship concocted by the very minds that left planet Earth to rot. Sickness and old age do not exist on Elysium: every home is equipped with a medical device that detects and resolves physical discomfort with the push of a button. Max, a factory worker with a severe criminal record, has dreamed of living in Elysium since he was a little kid. One thing leads to another and Max is eventually presented with a one-way ticket to paradise.
The tone in the film is set as soon as it starts. Its social commentary on the radical differences between the rich and the poor is visualized through a contrast between Elysium and Earth. Various juxtaposing shots of both locations intertwine to form the hard reality. Also, the people are shown to behave quite differently. Not only are they characterized by physical attributions, but what struck me furthermore was that people on Earth mostly speak Spanish or English with a Spanish accent while the rich on Elysium, including Jodie Foster’s character Delacourt, speak English with a bit of a French accent. It’s arguably a form of cultural stereotyping, but in fact it’s a necessary difference to portray the greater purpose of the film.
Logically, people from Earth feel hugely disadvantaged and consequently attempt to reach Elysium by whatever means possible. The film takes time to explain this development by portraying a subplot of a mother and a child illegally trying to get to one of those medical beds in Elysium. Through this, the film manages to raise pathos within the audience and captivate our attention.
The film does an excellent job in visually depicting Elysium and Earth as real as possible. The CGI does not annoy. It supports the intense action scenes very well. It’s enjoyable to watch those action scenes fold out into something unexpected and shocking.
But that never happens. And that’s where Elysium disappoints. The protagonist of the story, Max (Matt Damon), stays a flat character throughout the entire movie. His motives and his goals do not evolve, nor do we see any elaboration on his relationship with other characters. The film depicts a certain struggle for power by a triumvirate: the corrupt politician, the military and the people. Unfortunately the film only hints these messages and Blomkamp doesn’t explore them in any depth. He covers a large ground for social commentary while he could have just focused on one or two themes instead. For instance, the migrating Africans to Europe, in search for a better life, need to travel by fragile boats and many are victims of the ocean that’s between the two continents. Elysium is basically an allegory to those type of issues of global concern, but it still the story is left open to any interpretation.
The story misses out on various opportunities to gain credence. The flashbacks gave a rather edgy feel to the story. Also, the film ends with a solution which turns out be another problem. If everyone is equal and everyone should be granted the same possibilities, who will be on Earth to keep up the prosperity on Elysium? The question remains unanswered.
Elysium shows much potential and could have eventually become the next sci-fi action flick if it had explored the right themes and would’ve done much more than developing a superficial storyline.