The 2013 dystopic science-fiction/action movie Elysium creates a world that is divided in two. On the surface-level, there is the expansive, bleak slums, wrought with violence and disease and filled to the brim with unfortunate human beings. Overpopulation has created vast dilapidated communities across the globe. A gigantic, luxurious space station named Elysium floats high above them, the destination where the rich have fled to continue to live their clean high-class existence far away from the misery and poverty that has infected the planet.
Elysium is the ultimate gated community. The upper class live there without disease or want; the poor do not have access. Although the poor occasionally steal vessels to try to infiltrate this floating paradise, the place is heavily guarded, anticipating this type of invasion.
The majority of the film does not take place on this space station, but in the destitute wasteland community of Los Angeles on the surface. Robots patrol these streets to enforce order. This is where the viewer meets the ex-criminal main character Max, played by a beefy, tattoo-sporting Matt Damon. After he is exposed to a deadly dose of radiation at his factory job, he is informed that he has only five days left to live and his only hope of surviving is the technology on Elysium. He’s not the only one with a treatable impending death either, as the daughter of his friend (Alice Braga) suffers from leukemia.
The rich of Elysium have access to pods that can cure them of all diseases, even regenerating tissue. This is not technology that is shared with the surface.
And, of course, this isn’t exactly somewhere he can just go.
The Women Factor – Elysium (2013) Movie
But Max is resourceful and he does find a way, although it does involve him resorting to the talents he acquired during his criminal past. Shady deals need to be made. Elysium itself is protected by a woman named Delacourt, a defense secretary played by the sci-fi big name Jodie Foster faking an accent. Luckily, she’s not just a simplistic villain who merely wants to protect Elysium and leave it at that — the plot is also padded with a nice coup d’etat motive, adding to her character and the dynamics at play.
This is definitely an action movie, and in that respect it provides. Although the message behind the film is clear — reflecting heavily on current issues, such as the wealth gap and treatment of the poor — it is not heavy-handed. There is no ranting, no diatribes about healthcare access and immigration. There isn’t even a considerable amount of backstory. Most viewers will likely appreciate this, as action is far more entertaining than moralizing. In this manner, Elysium is a lot like South African director Neill Blomkamp’s other film District 9, though not nearly as subtly profound. The allegory is not as direct, and the some viewers may even prefer this.
Humor in Elysium (2013) Movie
Although the majority of the film is violent and bleak, there is some active humor to lift the dreary mood cast by this world, often provided by the villainous character Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley (who also appeared in District 9). And while the overall atmosphere of the movie is dark, it still all looks fantastic — even the endless slums. The robot police and futuristic transportation, envisioned by Blomkamp with the backing of a big Hollywood budget, are cool creations. The apocalyptic landscape is perfectly miserable-looking, capturing a realistic image of absolutely urban rot and out of control population growth. Even the bleak visuals are breathtaking. The visual effects take the cake and are easily the greatest accomplishment of this film.
Did The Visuals “Articulated” the Story in Elysium (2013)?
Unfortunately, the astounding visuals do not carry over to the dialogue. While the lack of background explanation allows for the plot to not be bulky with science fiction details that bog down the viewer, and that’s certainly appreciated, there’s a point in the film where some explanation would be appreciated. Without any explanation whatsoever, some plot points do grow too questionable and may disengage viewers. Some logic is required for continued viewer engagement. Not all viewers will be happy with the presence of deus ex machina devices, yet those do persist in this movie.
A love story also distracts from the action, though other than giving viewers a break from the constant movement and fighting, there is no real substance or purpose to the romance. And while Max initially starts off his mission looking to save himself, it inevitably becomes much more than that. After all, there’s a surface world of abject misery to save. Damon does a good job playing the criminal turned hero role, and keeps the story interesting as some of the unexplained plot elements create an air of fast-paced absurdity.
Blomkamp does a great job creating a dichotomous world, packed with realistic visuals and fascinating dynamics. The action is thrilling and looks fantastic, taking us from one extreme to the next. But the balance between action and plot is lacking, and the plot holes are just a little too glaring, possibly leaving the viewer shaking their head at the absurdity by the end of the climax of the film. For a second film, however, especially after the success of District 9, Blomkamp has shown there’s a lot he can do with a bigger budget.