Violence ensues after an extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth finds a kindred spirit in a government agent exposed to their biotechnology.Violence ensues after an extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth finds a kindred spirit in a government agent exposed to their biotechnology.Violence ensues after an extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth finds a kindred spirit in a government agent exposed to their biotechnology.
Now, 10 years later, my love for this movie is not as strong and has shifted from my previous reasons for liking it, but nevertheless, this is a film I expect will remain on my shelf for years to come.
"District 9" wowed me in the beginning for many reasons. The first one out of the gate that grabs you is the world building. There are hosts of movies that take similar tacks when it comes to informing the audience about the history or rules of a fantasy, sci-fi, or just slightly left of real, world. Relate everything through news stories that play in the background or are featured in scenes that inform everyone as to what is going on. In fact, this approach is so common that it is considered a crutch by many filmmakers and is classically made fun of in the brilliant "Shaun of the Dead"
It is truly rare to find films which spin a tried and maybe tired device into something fresh and even featured as a part of their film but Neill Blomkamp delivers a fresh look at documentary news coverage as exposition that simply stunned. Not only does the footage seem real, immersive, and present important concepts to audiences, it does so in a way that they are used to receiving information so that when they are presented with personal stories that contradict the news coverage, it causes them to ask questions about those same sorts of stories in their own lives, but more about that later.
The next thing that stood out about the film was the performance of Sharlto Copley ("Chappie") which, essentially, launched his international career. One of the most difficult tasks that a writer, director, or actor faces is to make relatable that which is unrelatable. Taking a character like Wikus, who is blind to his prejudice, complicit activities, and general willful ignorance and turn him into someone for whom we have genuine empathy is the essential role of an artist. To not hide from the way that Wikus allows himself to be stupidly used in the beginning of the film and give him a journey which confronts him with the horrific results of his apathy in a way that leaves us hoping for better for him is the essence of good acting and I say Bravura to Copley for his performance.
The reason that I highlight these two aspects of the film is because they are what I find to be essentially brilliant about the film, yet also what was lost on me about it ten years ago. With the way the film tells its story in two ways: through high level news; stories, documentary footage, and interviews with family and friends of Wikus; as well as on the ground personal interactions; between Wikus and his coworkers, the company, his family, and the Prawns; we end up getting the story from two perspectives.
As a young man, I wasn't asking myself the questions I now ask myself so I only saw the interesting story, the horror of realizing something alien is happening to you, and the thrill of some impressive action sequences especially considering the budget. As an older man I realize that while the film is about these things on the surface, it is also about the difference between what we receive through screens, second hand accounts, and media outlets, as opposed to that which we experience personally.
The film is about perception, propaganda, prejudice, and personal connection. It is about what is real and what is not. Questions like this continue to be begged more and more as our world becomes more saturated, debate if you will for good or ill, with screens, vlogs, stories, commercials, news stories, reality shows, and everything in between. "District 9" is a reminder that while our world has gotten wider with the advent of new technologies there is always the threat that it may not get deeper as it grows in breadth. We must remember that the tactile person to person contact which is the enemy of prejudice requires us to seek specifically for the individual and to see them for who they are as an individual and not just what group they belong to.
The Prawn in this film is a stand in for all of the things we fear at a knee's jerk whether it is the immigrant, refugee, Muslim, Jew, Christian, Communist, Fascist, Snowflake, or Boomer. May we all seek to understand each other more despite the efforts of the powerful to shape our understanding through media.
- Jan 7, 2020