In the year 2154, Earth has become polluted and overpopulated causing the richest inhabitants to vacate to a space station that orbits the planet called Elysium. Up on the celestial utopia there is no crime as well as no illness as medic stations diagnose and cure all afflictions and diseases, which has left the poor and the destitute of Earth to try and launch (mostly) suicide missions in order to try and access the medical facilities.
The plot of the film follows Max (Matt Damon), a factory worker living in 22nd century Los Angeles who has dreamed of living on Elysium ever since he lived in an orphanage as a child. As long as his own dreams, he also made a childhood promise to his friend Frey (Alice Braga) that he would take her there too. At the factory one day, Max suffers an accident that has near fatal consequences, which forces him to rekindle his previous life of crime in order to get up to the space station and get cured. There is plenty more going on but as with any sci-fi, there are plot-spoilers aplenty to navigate. The only other thing worth mentioning is that the defense secretary of Elysium is the Machiavellian Delacourt (Jodie Foster), who values the protection of the utopia over all else…
One of the pleasures of watching modern sci-fi is enjoying the technological/architectural/societal predictions that good filmmakers employ. After cutting his teeth on the superb District 9 (An extraterrestrial sci-fi set in essentially modern-day South Africa), Blomkamp has decided to head further into the future and explore the fate of America. The set design of the two worlds (L.A. and Elysium) are both brilliant and unsettling as L.A has become almost entirely Hispanic and now resembles the slums of South America, where the space station looks more like a suburbia populated with thunderbirds-style buildings, palm trees and impeccable lawns. Earth now mainly speaks English with a Spanish accent, whereby Elysium speaks English with either a French or German accent. This speaks volumes about where in the world currently have associations with richness and poverty… The major theme of the film seems to be a direct response to the Occupy movement and the 99% motif.
The film is also littered with militaristic language familiar to anyone who has watched the news in the post-Iraq world. The robots that protect Elysium are called Homeland Security; the defence secretary demands a No-Fly Zone over L.A.; Max is accused of stealing Big Data; and there are hints of a coup in the name of ‘Liberty’. This gives the narrative an unsettling prescience with current global geopolitics concerning Edward Snowden & Julian Assange, the Syrian crisis and America’s obsession with border controls.
My only problem with the film (as with a lot of modern ‘action’ films) is the over reliance on threatened sexual violence towards women followed by prolonged fight scenes. Too many films use the threat of violence towards women as the genesis of the protagonist’s motives for despising his enemy, which allows the audience to enjoy the needlessly long revenge scenes. Sci-fi should be narratives about big ideas, which shouldn’t always include a Matrix-influenced hugely choreographed fight scene – not at the length that exists in Elysium anyway… or maybe that’s just me