Wednesday, September 9, 2009I finally managed to go see District 9 yesterday and boy am I glad that I did. Directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson, District 9 is adapted from a short film that Blomkamp made in 2005, titled Alive in Joburg. The film is inspired by Apartheid, particularly District 6 of Cape Town. I've tried to say my piece about this film hopefully without giving away too much for those yet to see it.
District 9 gives us an alternative history where, in 1982, a large alien spaceship stops above Johannesburg, South Africa. After three months of simply hovering, we humans force our way in to discover a malnourished population of extraterrestrials stranded on board. These alien creatures, given the derrogatory name of prawns, are taken from their craft and housed in a government camp called District 9, which soon becomes a slum. Fast forward to the year 2010 and the government has hired a private military contractor, Multinational United (MNU), to handle the policing and relocation on the alien population to a new camp. Wikus van de Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley) is a MNU agent assigned to lead the operation, starting with giving eviction notices to the alien residents. During this process, Wikus is injured and exposed to a strange black liquid. He later falls ill from the exposure and is taken to hospital where it is discovered that the substance is altering his DNA. All the alien technology is tied in with their biology, making it inoperable to humans, and Wikus has just made himself the key to gaining human access to alien weaponry.
The film opens with a sequence of documentary footage and interviews but does not remain in this format. However, when it does break away from it, they do continue to use "shaky cam." While the camera work has been compared to that of Cloverfield, the majority of the film is not from the perspective of a hand held camera. Rather, the shaky nature of the camera work has been used to add to the gritty realness of the film. Some people have complained of experiencing motion sickness. I did not have any problems with the shakiness and was surprised that it was enough to make people feel sick, to be honest.
As good science-fiction does, District 9 has us explore the nature of humanity, drawing the conclusion that we are a pretty horrible lot. We are unnaccepting of others and their differences. We are cruel and we are greedy. We are selfish and care little for others that or not like us. Being intolerable of alien culture, we have them take human names. This intolerance is further reflected in that we never learn the name by which the alien race calls themselves, only ever hearing them referred to as "prawns" and "non-humans". The alien population that was rescued are overall unintelligent, believed to be a manual workforce that lost it's leadership in the events that lead to them being stuck on Earth. (This, presumably, explains the lack of resistance to the way they are treated by humans.)
Wikus, the main character, starts off pretty unlikable. He is bumbling, foolish, and naïve. Like the rest of his co-workers at MNU, he doesn't see the alien lives as having the same worth as human lives. He has a hut of alien eggs set ablaze and, seemingly enjoying the slaughter, comments how the burning young crackle and pop like corn. When he is being hunted by MNU and the government he seeks refuge in District 9 and selfishly places his own condition above the suffering of an entire race of beings on Earth. It is only as he is becoming more alien that he begins to develop likeable qualities, learning to be self-sacrificing and connecting with the alien, Christopher and urging him to survive for his young son.
Christopher Johnson, on the other hand, being an alien with apparently higher intelligence than what is average among those trapped on Earth, is by far the most likeable character in the movie. He is a loving father to his son and seeking a way to return his people home. I thought that a great job was put into giving his character depth, and enjoyed watching the emotions on his face and in his eyes.
I have seen some people call this movie racist due to the representation of African people but that wasn't the vibe that I got from this. Not only did I find it refreshing that this movie was not set in the United States (with humour they mention how, much to our surprise, the aliens did not sail their ship over Washington or New York) and I think that it would have lost it's impact if it was. There is a Nigerian gang in the movie that is exploiting the alien population and stockpiling alien weaponry but again, I would like to point out that there are no particularly likeable humans in this movie to say that any race is being shown favour. The Nigerian Warlord is disabled and confined to a wheelchair. He has turned to superstition to seek alien strength and power. The Warlord and his followers are just another example of human cruelty and selfishness, willing to see others suffer to achieve their means and placing their own survival above that of others.
District 9 is a great look into Xenophobia, segregation, and stereotyping and I definitely recommend it. It's not all hardcore social commentary either, there is a fair good balance of action including explosions, a mecha, and guns that make people go splat! It is all the more impressive to hear that Copely improved a great many of his lines. Also, all of the shacks in the District 9 slum were real shacks in Johannesburg from which the residents were being evacuated by the government to be moved to better housing, mirroring the events which take place in the movie.
Check out the trailer below!