Elysium (R)

10 Stars

I’ve put this off to avoid overselling it.

But Elysium is the best motion picture released in 2013.

Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, this is his follow-up to District 9, which was nominated for best picture back in 2009.

I hesitate to use the word “perfect” to describe movies, so I’ll say that Elysium is ‘seamless’ instead.

You can watch films in one of two modes: Regarding it much like a critic, or a willing member of the audience. I always try to consider both sides of the equation, but I lean more towards the audience. I’m slightly more forgiving of stretch marks and minor chinks in the armor.

That being said, I couldn’t find any in Elysium. It’s seamless. You might be able to come up with something, but it’d be a far-reaching criticism.

The narrative unfolds at a swift pace with high stakes and an intelligent undercurrent running beneath. The CGI is excellent and the futuristic technology is realistically depicted.

All of the characters; their motivations, conflicts, societal positioning, relative levels of power, etc. are so well thought out and polished. It’s a vast group of players in this narrative; each with a complex and justifiable problem.

So enough general talk about Elysium – if you haven’t seen it, stop reading. I’m going to spoil some things now.

It’s almost a story where ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ have zero effect on the end result, and yet, goodness triumphs in the most satisfactory way.

If you really think about the tension underlying the different scenes, you’ll notice the conditions are truly horrific.

The interaction between Damon and his robotic parole officer is one of many brilliantly dark moments. The aggravation is palpable when he tries to explain himself, and the robot interrupts with, “Stop talking. Stop talking. Stop talking.”

In a way, it’s a beautiful and chilling scene. The higher class of humanity has become so far removed from the judicial system of the lower classes that all tasks have been delegated to inhuman mechanisms. The parole officer illustrates the inefficacy of robotics streamlining interpersonal relations, especially when moral judgment becomes a factor. A misstep, momentary foolishness or poor decision can’t be allowed in a realm governed by pure efficiency.

This theme of intertwining humanity and robotics is touched on heavily throughout. It’s explored in several intriguing ways, including the mechanical parts Matt Damon integrates into his biological makeup.

The cocky, loose-tongued and rabble-rousing protagonist has been done so many times, yet Damon performs the role excellently. Even while interacting with a gun-toting CGI robot!

That man sure is talented. When he gets mouthy with the guard in queue, it’s the type of exchange that is so easily criticized as a cliché but he makes it work, creating a truly disturbing scene.

I don’t like Jodie Foster as a person, but her character in this movie is spectacular, and she deserves serious praise for her performance. Her role might be the most compelling character in the story. When she dies it feels like the moral synapses in my brain are twisted. I want to keep talking about her character, but I must move on.

If you’ve seen/read enough stories in your life, much like a critic, it’s easy to notice commonly recycled narrative elements. Such as ‘the parable.’ It’s tough to write one into a story without it feeling abrasive to the critical eye.

Blomkamp’s playful use of a parable is, for me, the crowning moment in Elysium.

Three months after seeing the film, I was explaining to my mom why it’s such a great scene where Damon interrupts the girl’s story about the hippopotamus and the meerkat. We were in the kitchen and I think she was chopping onions, because I had to leave the room without finishing my explanation. I got so choked up I couldn’t get the words out.

If you buy in, it’s a profoundly moving moment.

Sure the ending’s been done before. I bet there are critics who’ve compared his work to that of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s. But that’s silly, and I truly admire Blomkamp’s decision to write it the way he did.

All in all, Elysium‘s a great film that hasn’t received the credit it deserves.

Despite its lack of praise, I hope it won’t be lost in the buzz of award season, and eagerly await Blomkamp’s next project.

2 thoughts on “Elysium (R)

  1. I don’t really agree that it’s a seamless film — though I can’t off the top of my head remember what flaws I saw when I watched it — but I do agree that this was the best film of 2013. The whole plot is kicked off by an exploitative employer ignoring health and safety concerns, the ‘cavalry’ are people smugglers trying to get sick immigrants over the border, the bad guys are the first world, and the protagonist’s goal is to strike a blow against inequality. We need more films like this.

    Like

    • Mr. Soup, let me start off by saying thanks for the comment.

      I find your analysis thoughtful-provoking.

      However I’m confused by your use of the term ‘cavalry.’ As a narrative simile, the arch type for me is the Riders of Rohan. Therefore, I’m not certain what you’re trying to say.

      Get back at me, if you wouldn’t mind.

      Like

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