Film review: Elysium

Film review: Elysium

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Film by Neill Blomkamp
Reviewed by Kat Galea

The problem with most dystopian films is that the audience generally leaves the film thinking how lucky they are to live in today’s society. Despite director Neil Blomkamp’s comments that Elysium is an allegory for wealth inequality today, it seems that this will be the case for this film too.

Elysium focuses on the story of Max da Costa (Matt Damon) and is set in 2154 in a Los Angeles not unlike the Latin American or South African slum cities of today; in fact it was filmed on the outskirts of Mexico City. A reformed criminal, Max is a factory worker, arguably working in similar if not better conditions than sweatshop workers in India or China today who produce most of the world’s clothing and mobile phones.

After being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation, and with only days to live, Max makes a deal to get medical help with Spider, a criminal and essentially a people smuggler. This brings us to the key point of the film; while Los Angeles and the rest of the world’s cities were being turned into poverty stricken slums, the rich built a space station (Elysium) to mimic Earth’s habitat and fled from the destruction and devastation they had wrought upon the planet.

Despite leaving Earth behind, the rich still control Earth’s inhabitants through robots and various other forms of advanced technology. The ‘borders’ of Elysium are strictly guarded. This aspect of the film is especially reminiscent of attitudes towards asylum seekers from Australian politicians.

Like the people smugglers of Indonesia, Spider makes money from putting people on not-so-safe vessels in the hopes that they can reach Elysium for a better life, or at the very least for medical assistance. If these people happen to ‘breach’ the borders, they are promptly detained and sent back to Earth.

What is also comparable to today’s situation in politics is the instability of the capitalist class, fighting amongst themselves. On the one hand we have the Secretary of Defence, Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster), representative of the rise of far right forces such as Golden Dawn in Greece, and on the other we have President Patel (Faran Tahir) who while being on the same side as Delacourt, prefers to maintain control with a friendly face, a la Barack Obama.

The film also contains many other comparisons to today’s life that your average person faces, not just the working poor or the underclass.

It is also worth noting that it’s somewhat ironic, that Elysium – which, by the way, means a place of perfect happiness – looks remarkably like Beverly Hills, where most Hollywood actors and actresses reside. It’s a world full of mansions, garden parties and swimming pools, yet doesn’t actually seem to be a particularly warm or inviting place.

Although Elysium certainly touches on the vast wealth inequality that exists today, its main downfall is focusing on a lone character’s destiny to singlehandedly change the world.

This is where the allegory ends, and becomes another sci-fi film devoting much of its time to over the top action sequences, rather than the ideology it purports to support.

Without giving away the ending, it certainly raises some questions on exactly how to change the world, and what forces can change society. Of course, at the end of the day, this is just another blockbuster financed by the large corporation that is Sony, but you still can’t help leaving the cinema feeling a little bit cheated.

Elysium is currently playing in cinemas across Australia