Film | Jodie Foster | Matt Damon | Nathaniel Rogers

Weekend Movies: A Ticket To 'Elysium'

  Elysium-matttatt
Matt Damon has a gym membership but no healthcare in "Elysium"

BY NATHANIEL ROGERS 

In the future everyone has trouble finding good healthcare, there is no middle class, and Los Angeles is a cesspool. So far, so believable. By the future you mean next week, right? Dystopian fantasies work best when they prey on current fears and exaggerate like a mofo. ELYSIUM knows just where we hurt, aiming squarely for our have-not wounds. Though there is no direct talk of politics in Neil Blomkamp's action flick / sci-fi allegory, this 22nd century Earth is a place where the Right Wing have obviously long since won the political wars. The Koch Brothers and Friends, the "Corporations are People!" set, have vacated the filthy planet altogether to rule from afar and horde their wealth. They orbit the earth in mouthwatering luxury aboard the titular space station Elysium which spins like a pricey slo-mo hamster wheel (think 2001: A Space Odyssey. Add bling, swimming pools and golf courses), though it's undoubtedly the 99% who are powering it with their sweaty manual labor.

One such laborer is Max DaCosta (Matt Damon) who is foolishly hoping to 'work his way up' and buy a ticket to Elysium. He's an ex-con, though, and delusional about his future prospects. Even his childhood love Frey (Alice Braga), a stand-up citizen and steadily employed nurse can't afford to move there. In the future good health care is only available to the 1% despite technology so advanced that anything this side of death is instantaneously curable (think magic not medicine) and Max and Frey are out of luck. Socioeconomic mobility is as extinct as the weird animals that Max and Frey look at in picture books as children in flashbacks -- what the hell is a giraffe?

And also: why is Jodie Foster so pissed off??? MORE AFTER THE JUMP...

Elysium-jodieevil

Despite the obvious nature of Elysium's class divide allegory, which is cleverly fused to the equally hot button topic of immigration reform, the movie trusts that we'll keep up without the dead weight of political arguments. The movie never says so but there's also no such thing as Unions or Workmen's Comp or any other worker's protections in this awful future. All of which is very bad news for Max and Frey, who have rather pressing needs on Elysium and every intention of getting there. Jodie Foster as Secretary of Homeland Defense is NOT having it. She's so pissed at everyone that you'd think they violated her privacy as a celebrity and not just the airspace of her gated community. 

Elysium-copleycyborgThe 33 year old South African Writer/Director Neill Blomkamp made a rather seismic debut a few years ago with the Apartheid allegory DISTRICT 9, a DIY scifi blockbuster that looked far pricier than it could possibly have been and made money hand over fist alien claw in release on its way to four Oscar nominations. That's an unusual amount for a foreign indie OR a genre flick. For his second feature, he hasn't strayed far. The similarities in look and feel and sci-fi fury at human rights violation are omnipresent. The plots even share a sick protagonist who is losing his literal humanity though this time Sharlto Copley, who was so remarkable as the desperate hero in District 9, is in league with the baddies as a cyborg mercenary named Kruger. 

Unfortunately the battle over basic human rights versus privileged corruption is less than dynamically conveyed by the actors. The problem may be that both the "haves" and "have nots"  have not when it comes to personality. Damon and Braga are competent performers playing The Hero and The Girl but not much else within this context. Copley and Foster, on the other hand, seemed locked into an actorly contest of who can exude the most evil. Copley's inhumanity is wildly scuzzy, temperamental and over the top. Foster, though, plays EVIL in robotic all caps as if human nuance and shadings couldn't possibly penetrate her waxy synthetic heartlessness. But, oops, she's not the one playing the cyborg. On the whole Elysium isn't a match for District 9 and not just due to these characters. The fetishistic love of guns and weapons of mass destruction, which was admittedly even more pronounced in the earlier film, is a weirdly uncomfortable companion to this story's bleeding liberal heart.

Still, there's no denying Blomkamp's visual imagination and facility with high concept stories and big action scenes. His filmmaking team all do strong work and the film never looks less than great.  Elysium's MVP is the production designer Philip Ivey who brings real world-building allure from the shantytowns of Earth to the luxury of that coveted space station. The best touch is that Medusa-like insignia on the health care machines in every Elysium home; these machines cure everything but their hearts of stone.  

Elysium-beauty

Nathaniel Rogers would live in the movie theater but for the poor internet reception. He blogs daily at the Film Experience. Follow him on Twitter @nathanielr.

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Comments

  1. What rot. Fear is what ideologues turn to when the facts aren't on their side. The Right does it, the Left doe it. Each castigates the other when they do it, and think their version is so on target. A pox on both houses.

    Posted by: James Peron | Aug 10, 2013 7:23:06 PM


  2. It's a pox on all houses. The whole Pick a side, you only have two choices garbage. I'm so disappointed that most people are so conceptually thwarted. It's a waste of time to talk to people so passionate about their own self delusion.

    They have far more in common with the rabid fundamentalists than they think. They can't even see that every day is sick and sadistic love-fest between them.

    Love the articles in your link.

    Posted by: Festus | Aug 10, 2013 7:47:33 PM


  3. It was very predictable. Not worth $7.50.

    Posted by: Mark | Aug 10, 2013 9:01:39 PM


  4. Please. It's "hoard their wealth," as in "collect or amass," not "horde" as in "the Mongol horde overwhelmed the native army." And let's be politically incorrect; the movie is as much about uncontrolled reproduction by everyone as it is about immigration (it's set in LA but was filmed in the Mexico City slums which are LA's future).

    Posted by: Bruce | Aug 10, 2013 9:34:00 PM


  5. I didn't like District 9. Creepy, bugged out, dehumanizing pseudoness.

    Posted by: Kev C | Aug 10, 2013 11:45:00 PM


  6. Jodi looks great. Matt is hot. Still favorite role: "Talented Mr. Ripley"

    Posted by: Josh | Aug 11, 2013 2:25:07 AM


  7. "to this story's bleeding liberal heart." Spoken like a true resident of a gated community in 2013. Whether or not the "director" (if he can call himself that, not)
    says this film is not a comment on the path that the world civilization is on is not important, he is a tool of the "haves". Note his comment in the current issue of Wired magazine. He says that what he wants is his own private Elysium. This he undoubtedly says from his current-time Elysium existence.

    Posted by: Bob | Aug 11, 2013 8:37:53 AM


  8. Jodie sports the same pissed-off look she had when she "came out" at the Golden Globes -- attacking the LGBT community as she did so.

    Posted by: David Ehrenstein | Aug 11, 2013 9:36:42 AM


  9. Hoard.

    Posted by: Kile Ozier | Aug 11, 2013 11:57:07 AM


  10. Love TW, but y'all definitely need a good proofreader/editor. I volunteer since it's what I do for a living.

    Having said that, I took this film at face value and made no comparisons to any of the sh*t that's going on in our own dysfunctional society and enjoyed it immensely. But then, I'm a sci-fi freak and you gotta do it pretty bad to a get a neg from me.

    Posted by: jamal49 | Aug 11, 2013 12:40:17 PM


  11. I think the line "Matt Damon has a gym membership but no healthcare" was pretty ridiculous and also insulting. Gee, Mr. Rogers, did it ever occur to you that Damon's character may have acheived that body through years of backbreaking labor? Or are conclusions like that not allowed to penetrate the walls of your air-conditioned office? Hey, maybe next time you should review "Atlas Shrugged". I'm sure you'll give it 5 stars. Oh, and if anyone is going to fight for my rights, I hope it's a person like Matt Damon and not some sniveling little elitist like you.

    Posted by: dommyluc | Aug 11, 2013 1:54:11 PM


  12. I think the line "Matt Damon has a gym membership but no healthcare" was pretty ridiculous and also insulting. Gee, Mr. Rogers, did it ever occur to you that Damon's character may have acheived that body through years of backbreaking labor? Or are conclusions like that not allowed to penetrate the walls of your air-conditioned office? Hey, maybe next time you should review "Atlas Shrugged". I'm sure you'll give it 5 stars. Oh, and if anyone is going to fight for my rights, I hope it's a person like Matt Damon and not some sniveling little elitist like you.

    Posted by: dommyluc | Aug 11, 2013 1:54:11 PM


  13. Without getting into the politics I thought the movie was alright not great. The story was very predictable. I love Jodi Foster, however this was her worst acting I have ever seen from her. It also could have been that she just wasn't believable in the role and she had to try to hard. The effects were great, some of the better I have seen in awhile. Just my .02.

    Posted by: Jason B. | Aug 11, 2013 7:50:19 PM


  14. the Medusa like logo on the machines is the Versace logo. duh.

    Posted by: iplsuse | Aug 12, 2013 1:14:30 PM


  15. I've never quite understood the vitriol towards the reviewer I keep seeing at TRoad.

    Posted by: John | Aug 12, 2013 2:56:54 PM


  16. Want to see something worthwhile. Go see The way way back. Saw it today and now my favorite movie of all time. Really. It is that good. No CGI, just well acted, written, and has great laughs and tears.

    Posted by: mikeydallas | Aug 12, 2013 6:47:18 PM


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