Elysium: It’s Just the Way of Things
(A tribute to Amiri Baraka [1934 – 2014])
As 2013 came to a close, a year-end report dealt with the widening gap between the haves and the have-nots: the annual income of a CEO at 8 million and that of an ordinary worker at 37000. Another report simplified the inequity: CEOs earn 500 times more than workers. Then ABC News aired The Human Cost of Crossing the US Border, starting the year with a reminder of extreme poverty in South American countries and how the hopefuls continue to risk their lives for the great American Dream. Nothing new for a new year, I thought. It’s just the way things have gone ever since the beginning of time. Nevertheless, I found myself asking my usual whys and what ifs of the human race.
Then came Elysium on Saturday night. My housemates, who love action movies, were glued to Matt Damon whom I admired a lot (along with Jeff Bridges and Hailee Steinfeld in True Grit). I’m not a fan of anything violent, but when I saw that it was a sci-fi, I thought why not see how this material presents the future.
The year is 2154 and there`s nothing left of planet Earth but poverty and pollution, and the sick can’t get the medical services they need. The police officers are robots and there are drones patrolling the skies. Up in space, people can see where the rich reside – in Elysium, Beverly-Hills like accommodations with pools and flowing champagne. Elysium “citizens” have healing chambers called Med-bay , which perform miracle-like healing such as restoring a face blown up by a grenade (as long as the brain is intact) and, of course, keeping everyone young and beautiful. The President (Faran Tahir) and Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) immediately brought to mind US President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton. A coincidental parallelism? Whenever Earth residents try to enter Elysium illegally, their aircrafts are either shot down or they’re deported back to Earth, and it reminded me of the story of crossing the US border. I started shaking my head for watching something familiar, but I stayed on to see how it would end.
Back on Earth, Max DeCosta (MattDamon) gets into an accident and is exposed to radiation in Armadyne, the factory that built Elysium. Max has five days to live and wants to get to Elysium to get healed. He goes to Spider (Wagner Moura) who owns spacecrafts and charges everyone a fortune to try their luck to get to Elysium, similar to the “coyotes” that transport would-be immigrants through the US border. With Spider’s technology, people receive a code and are identified as citizens of Elysium, able to use a Med-bay. Without money, however, Max has to make a deal with Spider: his head will serve like a hard disk that will receive data from Armadyne’s CEO John Carlyle (William Fichtner), who happens to be conniving with ambitious Secretary Delacourt to take over Elysium. In return, Max hopes to live and to give everyone on Earth citizenship in Elysium. Our hero eventually lands on Elysium and succeeds in saving a girl’s life, the start of healing miracles for everyone. It’s the right ending for audiences who simply want the hero to succeed. For viewers who want to look ahead, the ending looks like an introduction to a possible Elysium 2 as it presents a more complex problem on Earth: that of overpopulation, greed and vanity as everyone is kept alive by Med-bay. For viewers who don’t believe in one-man army, they have to remind themselves that it`s just a movie. It takes a whole mass to topple the gods like the story of the Russian Revolution of 1917.
Why then should Matt Damon accept such a project as Elysium, which seems to have fallen short of viewers’ expectations of a Matt Damon film? Firstly, some of Elysium’s technologies seem to be dated when it was set in 2154, or 141 years from the movie’s release last year. Armadyne doesn’t have automation or assembly line robot arms but uses manpower instead. There was no ejection seat in Carlyle’s vehicle; he could’ve lived and complicated, or enriched, the plot with Secretary Delacourt. Neither should data storage need a human host as interplanetary internet has already been conceived in our time. Secondly, there was not much character development but, of course, it’s understandably also an action film—perhaps more action that futuristic sci-fi. Finally, why another grim picture of future Earth? Surely Sir Thomas More’s utopia seems far-fetched and there’s dystopia in many parts of the world now, but I wonder if moviemakers have something else to offer?
The following days, I learned about Mars One and Inspiration Mars, spearheaded by planet Earth’s billionaires from the Netherlands and the US, respectively. Now these endeavors may be necessary as the Earth ages, its population swells and its resources dwindle. But then again what’s sinister about all these is that they are the realization of future Elysium, to be enjoyed by the privileged few but unknowingly made possible by the entertained many—the voting audience of Mars One’s reality show, for example. It’s just the new way of things. Now Elysium, the movie, has its merits after all. Jamison/18/01/2014