Elysium has Staying Power
Elysium is writer and director Neill Blomkamp’s second feature after District 9. Like District 9, Elysium is a thinly disguised communiqué on the state of the human race in the early twenty-first century. Where District 9 focuses on race relations, Elysium delves into class division. But neither put up any flashing neon signs announcing their intentions. Our focus and attention remain on the characters and story, a testament to Mr. Blomkamp’s movie-making skills.
Elysium is the name of the space station that’s become an Eden for the human race’s wealthy. It is an Eden where not only are the lawns well groomed but so too are the people. All of humanity’s physical deficiencies, including disease, have been eradicated through modern technology. The one thing that hasn’t developed is inclusiveness. On Earth everyone struggles with the burdens of mortality. There are routine attempts by Earth dwellers to breach Elysium in order to save their terminally ill but they are met with lethal resistance from Elysium’s security forces, led by Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster).
Elysium shares the same traits as old westerns. The stories involve characters who set out on a journey to redeem themselves or to set past wrongs right. Max (Matt Damon) is a reformed thief doing his best to stay out of trouble. Mr. Damon with shaved head and tattooed body gives Max a menacing persona needed in the slums of Earth. Mr. Damon’s boyish demeanor makes Max’s loyalty and tender side believable. He is injured by a patrol of police robots and is taken to a hospital where he is reunited with a nurse, Fray (Alice Braga). He and Fray shared an innocent childhood romance from which they made promises to each other that still occupy Max’s dreams. Max returns to work with his injured arm since job security is nonexistent to be a victim of radiation poison due to a mechanical malfunction. He is given five days to live which prompts an intense determination to reach Elysium and a cure.
The action revolves around Matt’s efforts to get to the “Promised Land.” He recruits the assistance of Spider (Wagner Moura), a technical wizard and gang lord. Spider accepts his offer but only if Max does a favor in turn. Spider suits Max up with a steel computerized skeleton that increases Max’s strength and allows his brain to capture computerized data. They launch a plot to capture Elysium’s data which is stored in the brain of one of its corporate denizens so they can infiltrate and override Elysium’s computer systems.
But in between the steel, electronics, space stations and weapons is empathy. The empathy is what makes “Elysium” a good movie. It is about humans helping and sacrificing for each other. There is a sincerity with which Mr. Damon plays Max and the way Mr. Blomkamp tells his story that it becomes easy to latch on to Max and hope he gets to his Promised Land.
Mr. Damon is surrounded by some solid acting. Ms. Braga doesn't ring a false note. Ms. Foster maybe considered one of the best actors alive but she doesn’t have much room to maneuver as Secretary of Defense Delacourt. Ms. Foster can add layers to even mundane scenes but Delacourt’s deception and maneuvering to obtain more power doesn’t allow Ms. Foster to change gears. Mr. Moura, on the other hand, makes his scenes pop. His bargaining with Max is an engaging affair.
The most important movie devise used in science fiction movies is sound effect. The machines and vehicles of the future may look cheap but if they sound authentic then the world we are spending time in is believable. Mr. Blomkamp has paid attention to the sounds of his movie which adds a jolt. Ryan Amon has created a score that intensifies the menace and the drama. Part foghorn crossed with an electronic scratch, it enhances the feeling of dwelling in an uninhabitable land while giving off a warning that danger is approaching. It adds goose bumps to an already intriguing movie.