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Film Review: Elysium

by Alberto Sclaverano for Citiplat

A Dystopian Reflection on the Consequences of Economic Inequality and Environmental Destruction

Elysium, directed and written by Neill Blomkamp, is a thought-provoking and powerful film released in 2013. Despite receiving moderate critical reception and box office success, this Hollywood blockbuster deserves more recognition. Blomkamp is a young South African/Canadian filmmaker who rose to fame due to his sci-fi movie District 9 (2009), which is often regarded as one of his decade's best science fiction movies. In District 9, aliens' arrival on Earth became a metaphor for how we deal with migrants. Elysium is an even more ambitious opera that explores the consequences of ignoring the climate crisis and continuing to exploit the planet's resources at the current level.

The film is set in the middle of the XXII century, when Earth's resources have been completely dried up, and the planet is now a desert occupied by large slum-like cities. Billions of people live in conditions of extreme poverty and try to survive. Meanwhile, a small, wealthy part of society has abandoned Earth and lives on "Elysium," a giant space station near the planet. On Elysium, people can access the best options that future technology has made available, such as hyper-advanced medical capsules capable of curing most known diseases, including tumours. Fresh vegetables and clean water are also readily available. All of these things lack on Earth, and the poorest often try to escape the planet and "illegally" reach Elysium, which is protected with a high level of military security and has a draconian immigration policy.

The protagonist, Max Da Costa, played by Matt Damon, is a low-skilled Earth worker and convicted thief who remains poisoned by radiation during a work turn. On Elysium, it is possible to heal him very easily. On Earth, however, he will die soon, like thousands of other people every day. However, Max decides not to surrender to his destiny and fight the "system." The movie becomes a conventional sci-fi action movie, reminiscent of certain aspects of the 1980s and 1990s cinema (think of Paul Verhoeven's Total Recall). Still, it is essential to underline the power of its core metaphor.

Elysium's future Earth perfectly represents what could happen if we ignore the climate crisis and continue to exploit the planet's resources at the current level. In the movie, Earth has become polluted and poisoned, and most plants and animals' lives have gone extinct. But Blomkamp's film also reflects the limits of the current economic development model, which risks causing a sharp increase in economic inequality and being unsustainable for the majority of the population. In Elysium, very few people own everything, and their lifestyle is made possible by the terrifying conditions in which the rest of humanity has been left.

Elysium is a dark satire that projects real problems in the future, bringing their consequences to the extreme. Today, rich countries, especially in the EU, are always worried about stopping refugees from the South of the world. But in Elysium's future, almost everyone suffers the condition of today's migrants. At the same time, the "top 1%" has become so powerful that it does not need the rest of the population, which is only a problem. Neill Blomkamp's Elysium is one of the best dystopian tales in recent times. Looking beyond the visual spectacle and the violent action, we can find a very effective metaphor for our present and possible future.


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