I'm not sure why I've waited so long to watch this film. When the Birmingham Film Group went to see it in the cinema I decided not to go, even though I'd enjoyed the first film by the director Neill Blomkamp, "District 9". Maybe it's because of my feelings towards Matt Damon. I don't dislike him in the way I dislike Tom Cruise, and he's definitely not a bad actor, I just feel some sort of antipathy. I don't feel warm towards him when I see him on screen, whatever role he plays. I almost didn't buy this film, and even after buying it I waited a long time before watching it. I bought it as part of a "10 Blu-rays for 50 Euros" offer from Amazon.de in November 2016, probably the 10th film that I needed to complete the order. I watched the other nine films soon after, but "Elysium" has been sitting on my shelf unwatched for the last 14 months.
Now I've finally watched it, and I enjoyed it, as my rating shows. It's a science fiction film set in 2154, but it refers to the situation in America today. It's all about the situation between the haves and have nots.
In the 22nd Century the world is overpopulated and suffers from terrible pollution. A large space station called Elysium has been built with artificial gravity, an artificial atmosphere and a full artificial eco-system. The richest people from Earth live on Elysium, enjoying luxury and parties without end. The citizens of Elysium don't work, apart from a few who maintain the space station. There are also political leaders, but whether what they do can be considered work is a matter of opinion.
There have been amazing medical advances in the 22nd Century. Ageing has been cured. Nobody needs to die of natural causes. Death is only possible by accident or by murder. Everyone on Elysium has free health care and is potentially immortal. Nobody on Earth is eligible for this treatment. The Earth is over-populated, so death is useful to stop the world getting even more crowded.
The story's hero is Max Da Costa, a factory worker in Los Angeles. As a child he dreamt of moving to Elysium one day, but now he's an adult the bitter reality has set in and he makes do with what he has. After several convictions for car theft he's decided to go straight, which is difficult because every time the robot police officers scan him they repeat a list of his offences.
Max is exposed to radiation in a factory accident. He's told he has only five days to live. Desperation drives him to extreme measures. The only way he can be cured is by going to Elysium, and since he can't travel legally he has to use illegal methods. If he's killed in the attempt it doesn't matter, he has nothing to lose.
Everything we see in the film is an exaggerated version of today's life. There's prejudice against ex-criminals, however sincerely they want to reform. There is insufficient protection of workers. There's an unbreachable chasm between the few who are rich and the many who are poor. Worst of all is the health care. The rich enjoy health care as a right, whereas the poor are left to die.
The film was a moderate box office success and received praise from critics, but the director has expressed disappointment with the film.
"I feel like, ultimately, the story is not the right story. I still think the satirical idea of a ring, filled with rich people, hovering above the impoverished Earth, is an awesome idea. I love it so much, I almost want to go back and do it correctly. I just didn’t make a good enough film. I feel like I executed all of the stuff that could be executed, like costume and set design and special effects very well. But, ultimately, it was all resting on a somewhat not totally formed skeletal system, so the script just wasn’t there; the story wasn’t fully there".
I guess it's true that artists are their own worst critics. I like the film.
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