(2009, rated R) Sharito Copley (Wikas van der Murwe), Jason Cope (Christopher Johnson), David James (Col. Venter), Vanessa Haywood (Tania Smit-van der Murwe), Louis Minnaar (Piet Smit). Music: Clinton Shorter. Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchel. Director: Neill Blomkamp. 112 minutes.
Tags: Sci-Fi, CGI Bonanza, Xenophobia, Political
Notable: Inspired by incidents surrounding Johannesburg’s District 6, during the full reign of apartheid.
Twenty-some years ago, an alien spaceship comes to rest, hovering silently over Johannesburg, South Africa. The entire population of the ship — aliens who come to be called “prawns” for their crusty exoskeleton and mini-tentacles over their mouths — seeks refuge in an area referred to as District 9. Originally intended to keep them and humans separated for health reasons, the aliens become so disenfranchised that their area becomes something between a slum and a detention camp. There are now 1.8 million aliens in the encampment, and the Multi-National Union (MNU) intends to relocate them to a place some 200 kilometers away. The eviction, however, puts strain on an already tense situation, and when the head of that project, Wikas van der Murwe, appears to have become somehow “infected,” the entire project explodes into bloody warfare.
***ATTENTION: SPOILERS AHEAD**
It’s taken the aliens 20+ years to distill whatever it is they are using to create a single quart-sized phial of fuel, which will power their command craft (that is buried under the ground in District 9) and allow their leader/captain to go back to the ship to take off from Earth and get help. Wikas (pronounced VIH-kus) is a bigoted, bureaucratic idiot who accidentally finds the stuff, sprays some of it onto his face, and he begins to transform into one of the “prawns.” Throughout the film, we get to see prejudice, ugliness, corporate greed, human scumbags trying to run the slum as their personal unlawful turf… the very flower of humanity in full bloom (see “Donald Trump Presidential Campaign”).
At the end, Wikas agrees to help steal back the phial from MNU in order to have the alien captain (“Christopher”) reverse the process and make Wikas human again. Christopher appears to go back on the deal when he tells Wikas that it’ll take three years to reverse the process, because he (Christopher) has to return to his world and bring back the means to rescue his people. Wikas turns on Christopher, and even though he ultimately comes back to help Christopher get himself and his son back to the ship, it’s not out of altruism but his own personal greed — after all, that’s the only hope of his becoming human again.
There’s more “wag of the finger” in this film than in all of Stephen Colbert’s career. There isn’t a single human character that we can find to be the slightest bit sympathetic. There isn’t an honest, non-corrupt politician, industrialist, “social worker,” military man, corporate stooge, bureaucrat… not even the people on the streets of the city are sympathetic in any way. The greatest unintentional joke in the entire show is at the end, where the people of Johannesburg all pour into the streets to watch the big alien spacecraft leave, and they’re all shouting epithets, raising fists, and otherwise screaming a form of “Yankee, Go Home”… and there isn’t a white face in the crowd, emphasizing the ratio of black to white humans in South Africa. Nearly all of the people in any kind of power are white, and the only blacks who are with them are mulatto or “Uncle Toms.” Could we be any more obvious in our attack on apartheid? Further, do we need any more shouting of a formerly-oppressed people taking pleasure in oppressing someone who, finally, is even lower than they are?
I hear some cry, “That’s the point!” Okay, fine … but give us at least one sympathetic human to hang our emotional hats on! Even Wikas’ wife ends up being a stooge, when she calls his cell phone to cry at him and beg him to come home, while the armed forces triangulate his position by GPS. This is one of my gripes about the film: How stupid does one have to be to use his own cell phone when he’s on the run? And why does he keep it — to contact his wife in order to show how much he loves her? No. It’s exclusively because he’s hoping to find some way to end the nightmare of becoming “one of them,” even after he’s learned that the sole purpose for his being kept alive at the MNU is to become a biological treasure trove “worth billions to science, industry, business…” Could we become any more sickened? Possibly, but enough’s enough.
Even when a film needs to drive home a point, a little subtlety is welcome. Here, the conspiracy of corruption is absolute: As I’ve no doubt hammered to death by this time, there isn’t a decent human in the film, up to and including the “victimized” wife. Granted, there are days when I’m convinced that, had I the ability to use the alien tech shown here, I’d be happy to wipe out a good 95% of humans on the planet. Even so, I’d like to hope that I hadn’t lost my furry heart entirely, and that — unlike all humans in this film — I’d be able to show some mercy, justice, and compassion. The only take-away from this film is that all humans are evil, and all humans in South Africa are even more so.
…oh, and add to that gripe my objection to some particularly disgusting and no doubt expensive (Wiki says $30 million) special effects that provide explicit and gross visuals of what alien weapons do to anything from buildings to flesh. No brain-bleach can take that away, so if you’re of a sensitive disposition, be warned.
Rated three stars for being visually interesting, good use of CGI, and worth plowing through despite the depressing and relentless pounding of a point into one’s skull.