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Movie review: ‘Elysium’ a future twist on class warfare

Neill Blomkamp broke onto the scene in 2009 with “District 9,” a feature that spun out from his “Alive in Joburg” short and the failed “Halo” film. With its great CGI (on a budget, no less) and social themes, the movie    about mistreated, yet dangerous aliens was a critical and box office hit (plus, it had a great viral marketing campaign). Now he’s back to tackle more social inequality with “Elysium.”

The film concerns the plight of Max de Costa (Matt Damon), an impoverished assembly line worker who gets dosed with a lethal amount of radiation. He sets out on a mission to reach Elysium, an orbital array that houses the wealthy and their miracle cure machines. Delacourt (Jodie Foster)
utilizes an illegal mercenary (Sharlto Copley) to stop Max and stage a coup.

While most political movies are pretty straightforward, “Elysium” doesn’t shy away from the complexities of healthcare and classism. Of course, that makes it almost certain that a good chunk of the audience will misinterpret it. For starters, the movie acknowledges the claims
by (some) of the upper class that many poor people are lazy, criminals, or irresponsible. In fact, the main character is a reformed criminal. However, it also chastises the rich for sometimes compromising ethics and not being proactively responsible.

Most importantly, no generalizations are made about the classes: yes, the hero is poor, but most of the others on Earth are criminals. Some of them are just trying to squeak out an honest living in an uncaring system. At the same time, the sociopathic mercenary is barely better off than the protagonist. On the other hand, while the villain driving the plot is clearly the militant “I do what I have to do” type, the other citizens of Elysium range from ineffective politicians to regular people minding their own business.

The acting is all around solid, as you’d expect from such a cast. Matt Damon is likeable enough, but sometimes weirdly shifts from rascal to badass,
although it’s not really noticeable. Maybe it’s supposed to be character development, but it doesn’t mesh greatly with the themes. Maybe it’s about learning to fight for equality and justice? Weirdly, Jodie Foster has a French (possibly Quebecois) accent that goes in and out. She does actually speak French in parts of the film (plus her name is a big clue), so it might be from fluctuating between two languages.

Maybe the best thing about “Elysium” is its ability to be taken in so many different ways. Some people on the far right end of the political spectrum may dismiss it as a message of class warfare, but the film is certainly more nuanced than something like “Atlas Shrugged” (said without a value judgment on that film’s views, it just kind of hit you
over the head with them).

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