Elysium (2013)

(Video on Demand, December 2013) Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp made a splash in 2009 with his debut feature District 9, an exceptional blend of kinetic thrills and thematic wit.  Elysium may not benefit from the same element of surprise, but it certainly operates in the same vein: Drawing a clear line between impoverished Earth and privileged space station Elysium, the film tackles social issues in an explicit SF setting with gritty aesthetics and impressive action sequences.  Matt Damon is quite credible as a lower-class working man who is forced to become a hero through desperate circumstances while Jodie Foster is perfectly ice-cold as the orbital protector, but it’s Sharlto Copley who steals scenes as a crazed mercenary.  The film’s other unassailable highlight are the action sequences, shot a bit too close, but with a documentary-style dynamism that works pretty well.  In-between clever visual design and various bits of post-cyberpunk plotting, there’s enough here to keep true Science Fiction fans happy.  Unfortunately, Elysium has enough small problems that it seems somewhat less than solid as a whole.  The intention to discuss issues of class, wealth and privilege is laudable (there’s even a historical reference to the mercenary class taking over the rich elites when the barbarians come knocking), but it’s ham-fisted and riddled with inexplicable bits of world building.  Never mind the open-sky design of Elysium or the software-based plot to overthrow the station’s social order: the lack of a shown middle-class to keep the poor in line is historically strange (it can’t be explained solely by robotics), and it would have been nice to see a bit more nuance beyond the Manichean Earth-is-poor-Elysium-is-rich world-building.  The ending makes little logistical sense, and even less political sense –it med-beds are so effective, wouldn’t it be an effective instrument of social control to install them downside?  The problem with Elysium may not be that it’s as nonsensical as most Hollywood SF blockbusters, but that it’s so thematically and visually ambitious that it invites greater scrutiny, and that its world-building isn’t able to sustain more than surface-level contemplation.  (As an aside, I expect that as Hollywood Science-Fiction gets better and smarter -pushed along by, yes, people such as Blomkamp and movies such as Elysium-, the contrast between its stated sophistication and brute-force Hollywood-style plotting will be more and more apparent.)  Elysium is, all things considered, pretty good at what it tries to do.  But it’s missing the extra little bit of credibility that would have vaulted it from merely good to potentially great.

One thought on “Elysium (2013)

  1. Dwight Williams

    Elysium was set up on the assumption that the worst of the 0.01 % managed to keep the rest of their ranks “under control” and make some of the uglier decisions possible.


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