Friday, August 1, 2014

Elysium

The final scene of last year's ELYSIUM is so problematic, so open for viewers to say "Hey, just a second!" that I feel an entire movie could be erected around it. Not asking for a sequel, mind you, but what is presented as a solution is in fact just another problem that undoubtedly would branch off into several more. Worst of all, I found myself agreeing with some of the criticism from conservative viewers who cried "Liberal pap!"

In the mid-twenty second century, Earth has become an overpopulated and dangerous hellhole policed by robots. This confirms that my 7th grade English teacher correctly predicated that one day we would all be robot polishers. The "haves" in response made their escape and created a luxury off-world habitat called "Elysium", a place with fake grass and endless croquet matches and parties where frilly cupcakes are plentiful. Where everyone's life resembles a Ralph Lauren advertisement. As a seeming raspberry to those poor 99 percenters back on Earth, Elysium is always visible high above in the sky.  Each resident of Elysium owns a "med-bay", a device that can cure any illness and reverses aging.

The Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster, in a less than inspired performance) rules with a platinum fist and is quick to unleash lethal force on those unauthorized immigrants who attempt to pilot a ship to Elysium. She's also plotting to take over the Presidency.

Back in a ravaged Los Angeles, ex-convict Max (a bald Matt Damon) lives a miserable life working an assembly line. Like many, he has dreamed of escape to that netherworld above his entire life. But his efforts to go straight never seem to work out. His attempts to reconnect with a childhood friend are generally rebuffed. And then one day an industrial accident (involving radiation) leaves him but days to live. Through his underworld connections, Max plots to reach Elysium to save himself and maybe even a few others.

Writer/director Neil Blomkamp, who really impressed with DISTRICT 9 a few years back, suffers the oft-cited sophomore jinx. His heart is in the right place as he creates another cry for social justice within the sci-fi framework. However, this time his head seems to have wandered, as his solutions to the problems of health care, class warfare, inequality, and immigration (addressed in the earlier movie) don't register as well this time around. The questions are still, if not more, valid at this later date but the answers here are pat, unbelievable, wishful thinking at best.  It is alarming how simplistic and one dimensional ELYSIUM is.

Elysium as a utopia should have been fertile ground for some thoughtful exploration. Rather, Blomkamp makes this world simply a vapid playground for the wealthy, an attempted caricature of full tilt fiscal conservatism.  Worse, a solution to society's ills?! It is never shown with any complication. Meanwhile, those on earth are all dirty and desperate, trying to achieve that literal pie in the sky, again with no examination of the potential dilemmas that would inevitably arise. I would not have expected what amounts to a fairy tale from Blomkamp. I was a bit disturbed that my old GOP persona was screaming in my ear. But anyone with the ability to rationalize and think critically may have similar difficulties. Especially after that closing scene.

But...as a fast paced, kick ass adventure ELYSIUM often scores. Despite many blurry, frantic fight scenes that may make you wonder who hit whom. This whole "shaky cam" method seems to be the norm these days, and it has proven to make some viewers downright seasick. But otherwise this is a highly entertaining fantasy. Though having the follow through on the salient points this film raises would have made it so much better.

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