Friday, August 16, 2013

Elysium: Obamacare 2154 (spoilers!)

Neill Blomkamp may deny that his movie Elysium has modern political parallels, but he is not kidding anyone. There are so many allegories with the modern fight over Obamacare that the audience can't help but make them on their own. The year is 2154, the Earth is exhausted yadda yadda, and the rich have retreated to a spaceship in a low earth orbit called Elysium, which has universal healthcare that is even better than that bulldust they have in Star Trek. Matt Damon plays Obama Max, not so much Mad Max as Rad Max. He gets irradiated working in a robot factory, the doc gives him five days to live, and is forced to agree to break into Elysium by going all Johnny Mnemonic on his boss by downloading his brain, but not before getting all Universal Soldiered up with a spiffy new exoskeleton. Serendipitously, his boss is about to start a coup on Elysium and has the virus in his brainstem that will shut it down, like in ID4 but looking more DOS than iMac. Jodie Foster is Delacourt, the Francophone Rumsfeldian head of security on Elysium, who is engineering the coup while wearing some killer business skirts. Sharlto Copley is Kruger, Delacourt's Afrikaaner muscle who steals most scenes he is in and causes considerable mayhem.

So, I was trying to work out which characters were which, if we're drawing the extended analogy here. Max is Obama, obviously, with Delacourt as the Beltway faction of the Republican Party trying to not only maintain their privilege, but secure rule for decades to come through subversion of democratic process. I'm not sure we can pin the Delacourt role on any single politician - John Boehner is more like the hapless President Patel. Perhaps she is a portent for Marco Rubio? Unfortunately for Delacourt and the GOP, however, Kruger is the Tea Party. It doesn't end well for Delacourt, and if life imitates art things aren't going to turn out the white way for the Republicans. Then again Max doesn't get a sweet ending either, though I guess Obama's presidency has an end point regardless.

Wagner Moura as ghetto gangster Spider also enlivens the spectacle, in a performance that I grew to like over time, and he and the other non-whites in the cast playing ghetto characters (with a fair few redshirts who buy the farm) represent the rainbow coalition of demographics behind the Obama presidency. This is not just about healthcare but also immigration, the echoes are too loud to ignore.

As for its general merit, I don't think you can say Elysium is technically or artistically groundbreaking. It doesn't stray very far from Blomkamp's last effort, with many action scenes in dustbowl townships that could have been the Soweto-analogues of District 9. As with many recent sf films, though, it is slick and competently executed from start to finish as a production, and most importantly it is grand entertainment in the spirit of Aliens and Terminator 2. We are getting movies that look as good as those last two several times a year now, which is a great thing and is a major reason the cinema in general, and sf in particular, is so strong at the moment. Finally: Afrikaaners make the best villains!


  1. On the topic of science fiction movies generally, did you see Oblivion, m0nt? I thought it was very enjoyable, and it was pretty well reviewed, but it didn't crack $100 million in the States.

    I also made a political "cartoon" incorporating scenes from the film, for the handful of people who would understand it after seeing the film:

  2. Oblivion was okay, but minor and highly predictable.

  3. Predictable? Come on, you are telling me you saw the key surprise (Tom discovers Tom) coming?

  4. Actually yes, I did see it coming that he was a clone. I have read many sf stories like that.

  5. Lucky guess, I reckon. I can't see that there was anything in the set up to suggest that cloning had anything to do with his starting to recall the past....