by Neill BlomkampIn 2154 the whole of Earth is a ghetto, and the super-rich live on an orbital satellite known as Elysium. On Elysium there is space, clean air, enough food, and most importantly perfect healthcare thanks to sarcophagus-like machines that restore sick people to perfect health. The contrast between the crowding and inequality on Earth is stark.
Max (Matt Damon) is a man with a criminal past that he'd prefer to put behind him so he can live a normal life. He's working in a factory, and when his childhood sweetheart Frey (Alice Braga) turns up he's keen to renew their relationship. Neill Blomkamp, who wrote the script as well as directing, is brilliant at depicting the petty injustices and constant fearmongering that those in power use to make people obey them and to keep the poor economically and politically disadvantaged. It's one of these abuses of power that leads to a workplace accident that leaves Max with no choice but to go to Elysium and try to change everything. But he can't just get on a flight. Only those with citizenship are allowed in, and only on authorised flights.
Jodie Foster plays the ruthless defence secretary Delacourt in a performance that reminded me of Margaret Thatcher. Everything from her deep, measured tones to her sharp suits and her bullishness under fire smacks of the Iron Lady. I don't know whether that was by accident or design. It was understated, but in my opinion the best performance of the movie, particularly when we see her being kind to children one minute and treating humans like vermin the next.
Frey and the child Matilda (Emma Tremblay) play somewhat more stereotypical roles, in that they mostly need protection and rescuing by Max and the other tough guys. Frey is a medic, so once in a while she gets to patch people up. She's not without agency, and the film does just about pass the Bechdel test, but if one thing could be improved it would be beefing up her role a bit.
Elysium has good effects to contrast the high-tech world of the wealthy and the grinding poverty that's not far removed from any modern slum. When the refugee shuttles set off for Elysium it's obvious Blomkamp is talking about the politics of today as much as some hypothetical extrapolated future. It's a socially aware story, and in many ways it's the bits in between all of the fancy effects and action-hero grappling that are the most interesting.
There's violence and gore as Max and his friends contend with robot police and one particularly psycho hired killer called Kruger (Sharlto Copley). There's enough of this to keep the tension high, but not so much that it overwhelms the story.
The ending wasn't exactly as I expected, something that comes as a surprise when so many movies seem to be written to a by-numbers formula. Elysium is very moving throughout, even without overblown speeches about saving the world, because its creator had something to say and the right actors to say it with.
6th January 2014
Review © Ros Jackson