District 9 (Movie Review)

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Summary: Wikus van de Merwe is in charge with forcibly evicting nearly two million aliens (know perjoratively as Prawns) to a spot far from Johannesburg. In the middle of this, he gets caught in the middle of their plight and, as the movie starts out explaining, is treated as a traitor to mankind. It is a good movie, great in places, and carries itself largely through its dedication to feeling truthful.

Saturday, 16 January 2010

(02:28:16 CST)

District 9 (Movie Review)

The first ten or so minutes of District 9 tell us a lot about what has happened and will happen. Twenty-years ago, a more-or-less derelict space ship strands a group of aliens on the Earth. Pejoratively known as "Prawn", they were first welcomed to Johannesburg, but have become hated and blamed for much crime and corruption. Wikus van de Merwe, working for the company MNU, is the one in charge of the groundwork with forcibly evicting nearly two million of them to a spot far from Johannesburg. In the middle of this, something happens to Wikus and he gets caught up in their plight, and becomes known as a traitor to mankind. This is introduction as given, the first act being both the prologue and the foreshadowed fifth act at the same time. Once Neil Blomkamp (director and co-writer) has teased us a bit, he takes his time.

The Prawn (there is no other decent word given for them, alas) are amazingly rendered as humanoid but inhuman. Except for the very human eyes, their mouths are shrimp-like feelers and their joints and make up are much closer to something insect rather than person. They are made to be unabashed in their poverty, dealing in underground merchandise and becoming angry and unruly. Disruptive. They live in tin shacks, are unable to get much in the way of jobs or care, and spend what they have on cat food, which seems to have an addictive quality for them.

Wikus (played by Sharlto Copley) strikes up a balance as a guy who cares for them in something of a bureaucratic method, but mostly considers them tall version of cockroaches. About the time you hear him delight at the popping sound occurring when the Prawn's eggs are burned: you learn to hate him. Even after his life goes to crap, after he becomes the Job of the story (pun intended, I guess), you find little sympathy for him. This wheel whose cogs are crushing him, he profited from that wheel. Maybe he did nothing but push paper across it, but people like him are why there are two decades of suffering on the Prawn backs.

And, you know, maybe the last couple of acts are a little more in line with action stylings, with a bit of "AWESOME!" tossed in via alien-technology and such; but the movie rarely drops the one central theme it struck me as having: honesty. Wikus is what Wikus is. Most other movies would have made him a contrarian from the start, the one who understands. If not, then within minutes he would have taken a bullet for an alien child or something. By spending at least 90% if not more of the movie as an asshole, Wikus becomes that rare character, the one we can delight in both loving and hating but cannot merely write off with a pithy cliche. Even when the action-oriented scenes show up, whatever daring-do is accomplished is both penance and desperation.

Would it go down like this? Would the aliens be one city's problem? Would unusable alien tech be just floating around? Would the UN do something? Would America, say, have invaded or demanded a certain number of alien be spread about? I don't know. It does not feel properly balanced in "worldview politics". In the way of this movie, though, with its proto-megacorps and cynical disregard of life based on insider versus outside status: it works. You could disect a number of things that might be different, but in the end, there have been a number of similar cases in this actual, every day world. Not just in South Africa, I have heard first hand accounts from the Southwest US in which the towns-person described the poverty-stricken reservation nearby in terms of "they abuse what they had and we didn't like them nearby", almost identical to what was said about the Prawn in the movie. Maybe identifying the wastrel gang of human inside by their ethnicity was a dumb move, making a statement unintended (at least I assume, for all I know the people behind the movie simply hate Nigerians); but the point is not about who is good and evil, but what sort of conditions and mindsets make us choose one or the other. Profit is part of it. Self-interest. Being part of the system versus being forced out of it.

I though the movie was quite Good, borderline Great in places but a few of the scenes (the break-in comes to mind) feel too convenient and, frankly, a little more carnage at the end would have been welcome. I think Blomkamp has proven his abilities, and well, and I am game to see what he does next.

Si Vales, Valeo


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