Monday, August 12, 2013

Movie Review: "Elysium" Has an "S" Sound...

Is Hollywood even trying anymore?

Did the 2007-08 writers’ strike ever actually end? Is it actually ongoing, and have all the movies since then been written by the same kid who wrote Fast Five? Because that’s the best theory I have to explain the barrage of lame coming out of Hollywood these days: that all the writers, human and manatee alike, have gone Galt, except the scab Joss Whedon, who’s playing the part of Dagny Taggart. When he gives up, it will mean the lights of all the Macbooks in Hollywood have gone out.

Don't let your retina display go out, megapixel by irreplaceable megapixel.
Anyway, so here we have Elysium, a film hell-bent on showing everyone who thinks sci-fi is a vapid genre driven by flashy special effects with a smattering of heavy-handed moralizing thrown in at the end that they are absolutely right. The film offers absolutely nothing beyond what can be gleaned from the posters: poor good, rich bad, explosions BOOM! It’s basically a nonsensical rant against gated communities set to the worst music possible.

Elysium employs every cliché, audience-insulting trick and trope in the book. The pathos is palpable and pathetic. The bad guys aren’t just bad, they’re monstrous. Jodie Foster, Queen Bitch of Elysium, is so evil she has to change clothes like Batman as part of her transition from welcoming committee (bitchy white suit) to destroyer of illegal immigrants (bitchy pewter suit). Her muscle on Earth is not a mere mercenary but a complete psychopath with “numerous human rights violations” including rape and torture, and he sucks at his job almost as much as he sucks at doing an Australian accent (but not as much as Larry the Action Guy sucks at everything). And let’s not forget Mr. Corporate Man who actually says to an Earth citizen “Don’t breathe on me.” Wow, yeah, that’s rich people to a T.

Just your typical rich dude.
On the other side of the rich/poor coin, we have an endless stream of sweet, adorable, brown people who just want a better life for themselves. And when that isn’t enough, they trot out the ultimate moral trump card: sweet, adorable, brown children (hola, Pepe). Not persuaded yet? How about sweet, adorable, brown, sick kids? How about this little Mexican girl with crutches on all four limbs a la Tiny Tim? How about the hero’s childhood friend’s nine-year-old daughter who has fucking leukemia and who tells Matt Damon a sappy story about a meerkat and a hippo while she wraps a bandage around his fucking cyborg arm? Are you crying yet? ARE YOU?

I can’t decide if these are dishonest tactics or an attempt to show the logical extreme of private property in order to illustrate that it’s “unfair.” I think if you wanted to illustrate the cruel extremities of capitalism, you would go with something like private ownership of whales or a private market for organ harvesting (both of which would be awesome, by the way). Or at least you’d show some kind of a causal link between living on a private space station and being an asshole.

Smile when you say that.
Part of the reason why I can’t figure this out is that the film doesn’t even live up to its own claims. There’s supposed to be huge disparity between the quality of life on Earth versus on Elysium due to overpopulation on Earth. Well, the horrors of overpopulation shown on Earth are frankly ridiculous. Everything is dirty, yes, but as far as can be seen, that’s the fault of a damn lazy population. There’s nothing ostensibly forcing things to be dirty. There’s no shortage of food. Everyone we see, even single male ex-criminals struggling to make it on the straight-and-narrow, gets his own house with clean running water and plenty to eat. If you’re injured, you go to the apparently free hospital and receive treatment within a few hours. You work in a factory that, aside from one idiotic foreman, looks entirely up to OSHA standards. You basically have a normal fucking life.

The only disparity that isn’t purely superficial is in the availability of medical treatment for extreme cases like cancer and having your face blown off by a grenade. So the tiny fraction of the population that’s suffering from terminal illness won’t be cured, unless they’re also part of the tiny fraction of the population that lives on Elysium. But they will receive treatment that keeps them as functional as possible short of being cured for free. So basically the dirt poor of this film live better than middle class Americans do now. Oh, the injustice! It’s just too much to bear!

Pictured: Poverty.
This is simply the whitest, first-world-problemsiest vision of poverty I have ever witnessed on the silver screen.

While the filmmakers use the medical issue as a cover, what they’re really saying visually and otherwise with this film is that it’s really unfair for some people to have nice lawns when others don’t, regardless of how those nice lawns came into being. I mean, think about it: the rich people didn’t take over some island paradise. They fucking built that space station. Everything on Elysium is something created by people, not staked out on or extracted from Earth. The poor, sick or not, have exactly zero claim to the resources of Elysium. And even if they do, how are the resources of a single space station going to support the entire population of a supposedly overpopulated planet? Well, that’s conveniently exactly when the credits roll, so we’ll never know.

Until next time,

S. Misanthrope

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