There is a reason why science fiction is still one of the most popular narrative genres, and not just because we get to see badass boss fights between souped-up robots and angry androids. Science fiction allows the author, as well as the audience, to vent their frustrations about the current political and social climate with the kind of brutal honesty seldom seen in even the most prestigious dramas.
The trick is simple: The story takes place in the future or in another universe and since it’s not officially our present world, the message flies in under the radar, oblivious to the powers that be, who consider science fiction to be "silly kids stuff". Legendary TV shows like The Twilight Zone and Star Trek expertly camouflaged their social agendas during the tumultuous 1960s as they dealt honestly with racism, war and politics.
As the wealth gap in USA and many other parts of the world widen to Grand Canyon proportions with 1% of the country controlling a third of its wealth, and the public is put to sleep via the "Ole American Okey Doke" (As George Carlin put it, being told that if they work hard and wait long enough they will be billionaires themselves), it was just a matter of time for science-fiction to step up and present Occupy Wall Street’s worst nightmare.
Elysium takes place in a near future where the wealthy live a comfortable, disease-free life on a space station called, you guessed it, Elysium. Meanwhile, the rest of the 99% worthless scum fight it out on an overpopulated Earth that looks like a 24.000 mile-long favela.
Max (Matt Damon), an ex-criminal on the straight and narrow, always dreamed of going to Elysium. When he’s forced into a radioactive chamber by his boss at the factory that produces the robots who enforce the law on Earth (One of them breaks Max’s arm after he cracks a joke, who knew robots didn’t have a sense of humor?), Max ends up with cancer and is given five days to live. His only hope is to somehow get to Elysium in order to use a medical device that can cure any disease in a couple of seconds.
Meanwhile Delacourt a.k.a. The Female Dick Chaney (Jodie Foster, with the most unplaceable accent since Julianne Moore from The Big Lebowski) wants to destroy anyone who even attempts to set foot on Elysium. The powers that be are against violence and want to keep the poor people on Earth under control through diplomacy and propaganda. This is not enough for Delacourt, so she devises a plan with desperate businessman Carlyle (The always dependable William Fichtner) to reboot Elysium’s system and put her in charge. But her plans are thwarted by Max, who steals the data from Carlyle’s mind and uses it as a bargaining chip to get into Elysium and get fixed. Side note: For cyberpunk and William Gibson fans, I know this premise gives you nightmarish flashbacks to Johnny "I want room service!!!" Mnemonic but fear not, Elysium is much, much better.
What really works with the new sci-fi wunderkind Neill Blomkamp’s (District 9) approach is that this isn’t necessarily a "message film". It’s a hard-R action-adventure that’s bloody intense, and intensely bloody. It’s a ticking time bomb movie with a very simple conflict: Get to Elysium, or you die. The Occupy Wall Street parallels are used only to establish the universe that the story inhabits. It never goes out of its way to be overly preachy yet doesn’t dumb down the premise and doesn’t compromise its values.
For fans of smart science-fiction and kick-ass action, it meets us halfway. It presents a credible dystopia (As credible as you can get with science-fiction) that reminded me of the speculative fiction realism of Children of Men. And when that vision also comes with robots exploding in slow-motion, cars exploding and flipping upside down and men wearing robo-suits duking it out with katanas, that’s perfectly fine by me.
More than any other style, Elysium reminded of Paul Verhoeven’s 80s heyday. There are even certain plot points that are reminiscent of Total Recall (Not the pussy Colin Farrell remake, the Ah-nold classic).
The acting is very solid all around, but I have to give extra props to Sharlto Copley, who gleefully shatters the comic relief persona he was given through District 9 and The A-Team and presents one of the most entertaining and memorable antagonists of recent years with Kruger, a rough, gruff agent working for Elysium’s security who’s also psychotic beyond belief. He deserves a best supporting Oscar nomination.
Before I leave you to hopefully flock to the theaters in order to see the best blockbuster movie this weak summer season will offer by a long shot, let’s play a little game called "Guess which tired approach Fox News, the official propaganda machine for the %1, will use to discredit Elysium as socialist garbage?" My money’s on the old "Wealthy shaming the rich" method: "What do millionaire actors and directors know about the woes of the working class and the poor?" What’s your guess?