Amidst the obligatory summer movie stew of beefy superheroes, giant robots and pervasive violence, this summer’s moviegoers were treated to a healthy dose of sociopolitical allegory with their Sci-Fi blockbusters.
Despite the Social Darwinist malarkey of “The Purge” and the half-hearted collectivist aims of “World War Z” and “Pacific Rim,” (which assert the radical notion that geopolitical squabbles don’t matter much during a monster/zombie apocalypse) the award for most overtly political flick of the summer must go to Neil Blomkamp’s eagerly awaited follow up to “District 9;” “Elysium.”
The film depicts a bleak future, one in which Earth is overcrowded and grimy, and the only means of income aside from crime appear to be in dangerous factories or under-resourced hospitals. Meanwhile, the ultra-wealthy elite inhabit a massive space station, Elysium, where snobbery is rampant and health care is free in the form of an in-home cure-all machine.
Matt Damon plays Max Da Costa, an everyman ex-con who suffers radiation poisoning at his crummy job. Knowing traveling to the militantly guarded Elysium is his only shot at treatment, Max becomes involved in a dangerous revolutionary plot … And slow-mo action ensues.
That the nitty gritty of the story centers on an exploited proletariat seeking to immigrate to a wealthy, heavily guarded habitat for health care would be enough to crown “Elysium” the most potentially divisive Hollywood film in some time, but as Chicago Tribune critic Michael Phillips so correctly put it: “Effective, evocative science fiction, which ‘Elysium’ is, has a way of getting by with an ILA (Insidious Liberal Agenda) in the guise of worst-case dystopia.”
“Elysium” is not a cinematic masterpiece. The characters are overdrawn, the dialogue is occasionally ham-fisted and frequently melodramatic, overacting is rampant and the film’s humanitarian inklings are severely obscured by the fetishistic depictions of weaponry and destruction prerequisite in movies of its sort, but for all its flaws there is something so undeniably endearing about the whole enterprise.
In effectively melding pop-spectacle and political earnestness, “Elysium” harkens back to the time of masters like the creator of “The Twilight Zone” Rod Serling, a time when Science Fiction was not afraid to entertain and preach in equal measure
Though not rivaling recent Sci-Fi pinnacles like Alfonso Cuarón’s criminally under-looked godsend “Children of Men,” Blomkamp’s attempt to inject a little thought into what has become the mindless escapism of summer movies is certainly welcomed. Unfortunately, “Elysium” has about 15 million dollars to go before it makes its unfathomable budget back.
Despite Damon and Blomkamp’s best efforts, it appears that audiences are not quite willing to consume allegory with their summertime carnage and buttery popcorn; no matter how easy it is swallow.