The Bock’s Office: Social strata still the same in future of ‘Elysium’
August 15, 2013
Do you sometimes feel bad worrying about trivial things knowing there are people in the world who can't get medical care or even decent drinking water? Well, if there's one thing to take a way from a film like "Elysium," it's that people with first-world problems still don't feel bad enough about themselves.
In 2154, life is serene, clean and disease-free aboard a space station orbiting Earth known as Elysium. If you can afford to reside there, you've got it made.
Down below on the planet itself, an overpopulated world destroys itself more by the day as its financially strapped denizens try to eke out a living, taunted by the paradise that floats above them.
Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) has long since made peace with the harsh truth that he'll be stuck on this desolate rock forever, his best option as an ex-convict staying employed as a factory worker for meager pay. His unenviable life gets even worse when an on-the-job accident leaves him with a deadly dose of radiation and a life expectancy of only days.
With nothing more to lose, Max agrees to help a group of smugglers find a way to penetrate Elysium and access its resources, including a cure for his own ailment. When they discover an in, the resulting plan could mean changing the entire system, but only if Elysium's secretary of defense (Jodie Foster) and her mercenary on the ground (Sharlto Copley) don't stop them first.
With his eyes permanently set to that special kind of pathetic, a shaven Damon has the look of a man who has been beaten down by life finally gathering himself up and ready to turn the tables. After fantasizing about getting into that big gated community in the sky throughout his childhood, all it takes now is a specially designed exoskeleton that makes him look like a ghetto Iron Man and allows him to get a hold of some delicate electronic information.
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That he gets to hijack this info from the same bottom-line guy (William Fichtner) who fired him when he was near death is just gravy.
It's tough to tell just what Foster is going for, voice-wise, as the double-dealing Secretary Delacourt, whose unidentifiable accent seems to be an omni-lingual creation with no real purpose other than to show elitism knows no nationality 140 years from now. To be fair, you'd probably want to keep your luxurious way of life going as long as you could, but there's a difference between a comment like, "There goes the neighborhood" and telling your operatives to shoot down any incoming ships at all costs.
Most people stuck on Earth aren't interested in Elysium for the fresh air or endless dessert trays; machines known as Med-Pods which can cure any illness or reconstruct a broken body in seconds are the big draw. Imagine sunbathing long enough to get cancer, then getting it removed the same day.
Alice Braga is fine as an old friend of Max desperate to get her leukemia-stricken daughter (Emma Tremblay) to some good medical help, with even the doctors at the hospital unable to do more for her little girl than basically smile and politely say, "Please go die somewhere else."
Maybe a slow but natural death would be better than dealing with Copley's psychotic Kruger, defender of the rich, a far different role than the last time he worked with this particular filmmaker, though whether it's worse to turn into a giant bug or get your face blown off with a grenade is debatable.
Writer-director Neill Blomkamp tackles social injustice once again but with a much greater popcorn feel to it. Like his groundbreaking, apartheid-themed "District 9," Blomkamp presents us with a skirmish between the haves and the have-nots with some elements that might feel closer to home for Americans than those of his native South Africa.
There's a couple of ways to see Elysium and Earth: one is like a caste system, where if you're born poor you might as well get used to it because you're not moving up that economic ladder and that's that. The more likely connection audiences will make is the good ol' US of A and its relations with pretty much every country in the world. There must be some Elysians who feel for the people of Earth, but clearly the population is composed of folks without a care in — or for — the world.
Ignorance is bliss, after all.
Unfortunately for Blomkamp, his movie comes on the heels of this year's tales of ruined futures, "Oblivion" and "After Earth," as well as recent stories of systems intrinsically structured to keep down the lower class, like "In Time" and "The Purge." Still, his cinéma vérité stylistics will keep your attention even if you don't like his portrayal of the wealthy.
"Elysium" keeps its politics as bare and obvious as Damon's bald head, and its biases keep it from being as fully engaging as it might otherwise be. But despite a downright petulant attitude about how life still isn't fair in the 22nd century, Blomkamp shows we can expect some quality sci-fi to come from him as he works with a bigger budget.
Andy Bockelman can be reached at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.