Most futuristic movies show the smooth and glistening fantasies of the masses where everyone has a jetpack and access to all of the coolest technological innovations. In contrast to the stereotypical science fiction film, Elysium features the strife-ridden underbelly of Earth—and to take things even further, writer/director Neill Blomkamp opens a door to discussion of contemporary human condition through fictionalized healthcare issues and class warfare.
The titular ring-shaped space habitat Elysium floats symbolically above the poor working-class dregs of 2154 Los Angeles. Earth is dusty and overpopulated and the very wealthy have the luxury of orbiting around it with big houses and flawless healthcare. Ex-con Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) is fatally irradiated at his factory job on Earth and wants to fly up to Elysium to help himself and a friend’s daughter with leukemia recover using one of the habitat’s cure-all Med-Bays. Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) employs ruthless tactics to stop any illegal entrance to the habitat and enlists a mercenary named Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to take down the operation. Throughout the process a political conspiracy is unveiled and adds an unexpected and interesting new layer to the plot.
Beneath the surface of Elysium lies a commentary on the contemporary human condition. Blomkamp grew up in South Africa and draws from the world he has experienced to craft his films. While the circumstances are unrealistic, the themes correlate to issues we see around the world today. Class separation and mobility are clearly exhibited by the mere physical difference of Earth and Elysium, as well as the difference in healthcare opportunities between classes.
Elysium received some early criticism for being too political but it does not appear to send a direct message, only to point out the situations as they are.
On paper, the full story of Elysium may appear confusing, but Blomkamp did a great job of keeping everything relevant and simple. The conspiracy subplot adds extra intrigue to the already intense movie. Like Blomkamp’s previous film, District 9, this movie has a realistic feel to it that many science fiction films fail to convey.
The biggest problem with “Elysium” is the lack of meaningful character development. Damon’s character feels generic, and the movie becomes difficult to connect to due to the majority of the plot focusing on this empty character’s yearning to survive. Foster’s portrayal of the secretary of defense is cold and borderline sociopathic. Each character seems frustratingly one-dimensional, which takes away from what could be an amazing movie.
The visuals of the movie are striking. Seeing the difference between the luxurious Elysium and desolate Earth is captivating. Ryan Amon’s soundtrack is more atmospheric than intrusive and helps add to the beautiful scenery.
The film is visually stunning, engaging and interesting without becoming too convoluted, but a lack of character development keeps the film’s concept from reaching its full potential.