Elysium by Neill Blomkamp

ElysiumA dystopian film for both the Occupy movement and the folks who voted against Obamacare: in this version of the future, healthcare is the final frontier. Yes, the 99% who still live on earth face crime, urban poverty, and robotic overlords, and the 1% who live on Elysium (a satellite which resembles a diamond-encrusted Mercedes-Benz logo) live in the sunshine-y bliss of faux-Palladian homes and swimming pools straight out of a Florida development. But the key symbol of their disparity is a full-body scanner which instantly cures all ailments (even cancer), which is only available to citizens of Elysium.

The film team, who made a fine dystopian film with District 9, unfortunately loses its footing with this film, particularly with the casting. While it attempts to present diversity in both the haves and have-nots (the president of Elysium is non-white; Matt Damon, as the lead oppressed earthling, is white), it is hard to ignore that this vision of the future is just another white flight into the (galactic) suburbs. More glaring is the characterization of a dystopian earth as entirely populated by Spanish-speaking people of color (Mexico City is the stand-in for dystopia) and Elysium by mostly white people who speak English and French. Moreover, in focusing the lens almost entirely at the dystopia, those on earth are robbed of dignity and their personal gaze – we can look at them, but they can’t look back at us. Perhaps that is the real oppression brought on by Elysium.

With Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, the always-wonderful Diego Luna as Julio, and an under-used Alice Braga as Frey.

Elysium, dir. Neill Blomkamp. 2013. 109 min. TriStar Pictures. In English, French, and Spanish.