Elysium (2013) - Well I may not have enough films for a part two of summer films but I did see this one. It was one of those rare occasions where Elisa (my wife) and I agreed on a film to see together and this is the one. Certainly a summer movie but with a bit of heart and some good if garbled messaging about rich and poor, and health care. I was looking forward to it. I had seen director Neill Blomkamp's feature District 9 and really liked it. He using science fiction had taken a look into racism in a way not seen since Alien Nation (1988). I always loved that about Science fiction the way you can use the fantastical stories to look at issues facing all of us today. So when this film started up and the world presented looked an awful lot like South Africa I thought okay we might have something here. Except this world was all out of whack. Now most people see this film and say its about the rich and the evils they will dispense on the masses when the earth that they moved towards it's breaking point finally can not sustain the kind of life they want to live. If you will a shot across their bow, but I think the message got a bit garbled in its presentation.
Global warming and overpopulation makes the earth of 2154 look like hell. Somewhere along the line the Earth's population stopped using birth control, but continued to rape the earth of resources leading to the wealthy saying, "See you later gator." They took their ball and went up to a lovely climate controlled environment in orbit call Elysium. I am sure there were many discussions that we don't get to see where the wealthy are looking for alternatives to this solutions. Certainly they recognized that unbridled capitalism which focuses on growing the pie, thus increasing the size of the population was unsustainable. I am sure before building their dreamland in space they tried to give away condoms and create industries that would save the earth instead of encouraging its demise. They being the leaders of governments and the masters of industry surely pushed for a sustainable form of economics that would allow them the comforts of wealth without trashing the one place they absolutely need to live. I am also sure that the film just didn't show the continued efforts on the behalf of mankind after they left the ground. Surely they realizing that if the earth ultimately died so would they. Even with their magical fix-it medical bays they must have realized that the earth will eventually burn leaving them without a workforce or resources to sustain themselves? So they must have been doing more than just making police robots and lounging by pools and partying.
It appears that when the goods are mostly used up that the "haves" of this future world decided living in a shitty world was not for them. They with their Ayn Rand philosophy left the party for a place that was unreachable by the masses leaving the workers to be enslaved to the idea of someday joining them in their utopia. Now I have a basic problem with the vision shown in this film. The civilization left behind is one of abject poverty. People controlled by robots police without feelings. Slogging away each day for measly wages and having no say over their lives. I object to this vision one where the people would stop governing themselves. One where everything will go to hell without the wealthy's guiding hand of wisdom. Sure the world presented is one where the rich run things but I say bull that it would go down that way. People would still strive for good meaningful lives even in that kind of society. The film implies that normal people, although poor can't organize, can love, can't control crime, can't get along and the criminals and poor decision making would rule the day. If not for the ruling classes robot police force the earth would be an uncontrollable festering sore of crime and debauchery. Not only do I reject this idea I think that the yoke of mechanized control would be thrown off not long after it was institutionalized. In fact instead of dreaming for a chance to steal health care from the rich, or if a big dreamer of earning enough cash to move to the city in the sky, I imagine that a healthy hatred of the place would be the more prevalent feeling.
In this film we see like the Cuban boat people during the Reagan years, refugees trying to reach the US before being captured and returned to Cuba, but here on Elysium it is a bit different. We are presented with an immigration message, one which corresponds with what the Obama administration does, capture and deport people when they cross the border. The other more extreme idea is to shoot their spaceships from the sky, as presented by Elysium's director of defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster). All these people are after we learn is the magical medical bays. They know they will be deported so the idea is to land and race to the nearest house. Every wealthy person has a medical bay that in just seconds can scan a person and correct any ailments they might have. The refugees who have gotten a DNA code on the black market break into a house and get scanned and cured of all illnesses before getting caught by the robot police. Its a remarkable message that the wealthy of this world have what could be termed socialized medicine for themselves but don't want to share it.
The medical bays are an instrument of control, they allow the rich to live long healthy lives. I could not tell if the residents of Elysium were practically immortal but they certainly have very long lives. The longer life allows for more wealth and power thus the wealthy are the long lived ruling class. Keeping the poor dying young is actually a good means of controlling the society. So keeping them from proper health care makes it more likely that anyone organizing to change this corrupt society will face mortality long before those in charge. A fine example of this control is shown through the main storyline where workers at a factory are more likely to be allowed to die that to be instantly cured when they are hurt on the job. The wealthy overlords see the human left on the planet as disposable resources not worth the expense of fixing.
The main story is of a man Max (Matt Damon) who will soon die after an accidental radiation exposure. He wants to try to get to Elysium and get himself cured and because of this is willing to do anything to make it happen. The mixed plot involve him getting a mechanical exoskeleton, working with hackers who want to jack into the memory of a wealthy Elysium resident John Carlyle (William Fichter) for passwords so they can hack away. He visiting his factory in future LA. and just happens to be the boss that decides not to cure Max when he is hurt. On top of this he has just written a program to reboot the entire Elysium computer system. In doing so making all the robot police he designed, be reprogrammed to follow Defense Minister Delacourt instead of the current president. This treason can't be discovered so he encodes his program in his own head. Of course the film has the hackers find this information and remarkably know what it is. In fact it seems the program is the most easily recognized piece of code ever written. Adding to the plot is the love interest of Max, Frey (Alice Braga) who needs to get her daughter to Elysium also. The little girl is battling leukemia and will not survive long without the magic of the medical bay. Of course it is all going to come out good for the main characters but there is lots of action and thrills along the way. The wild card in the plot is mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) who is assigned by Delacourt to stop the invasion perpetrated by our heroes.
I can't say that this was the greatest of films, the action was fine and all but in a way it felt a bit too formula. Some of the simplistic solutions to solve problems made it seem that the society was not quite as advanced as it wanted to be. The medical bay technology was true magic and the simplistic code that it seemed everyone immediately recognized was silly. The final change to that code that made everyone on earth legal to receive the medical bays was absolutely stupid. Certainly this was a what if scenario that needed the magic to make it work. What if the wealthy left the earth when it became too crappy? What if they still ran society from a space station? What if they had a medical bay that could extend their lives and power? Would they share it? These questions are answered I am just not sure they were answered in a satisfying way.