District 9 (2009) - Plot Summary Poster



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  • 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.

  • In 1982, a massive star ship bearing a bedraggled alien population, nicknamed "The Prawns," appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. Twenty-eight years later, the initial welcome by the human population has faded. The refugee camp where the aliens were located has deteriorated into a militarized ghetto called District 9, where they are confined and exploited in squalor. In 2010, the munitions corporation, Multi-National United, is contracted to forcibly evict the population with operative Wikus van der Merwe in charge. In this operation, Wikus is exposed to a strange alien chemical and must rely on the help of his only two new 'Prawn' friends.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • The film opens with a documentary-style series of interviews that introduce the story: twenty years prior, an alien ship arrives above Johannesburg, South Africa. It hovers above the city for three months without any contact; eventually humans take the initiative and cut into the ship. They discover a large group of aliens who are malnourished and sick. The aliens are later assessed as being "workers", with their leadership mysteriously missing (it is hypothesized that a plague may have wiped out all of the leadership-caste). Grainy footage shows part of the ship (supposedly a command module) falling to Earth, but nobody has been able to find it, leaving the ship still hovering but inoperable.

    The creatures are given permission to leave their craft and live on Earth but are housed in a squalid government camp consisting mostly of dilapidated one to two room shacks. The alien race's true name is never learned; they are primarily referred to as "prawns", a derogatory term referring to the bottom-feeding sea creature they resemble or, more rarely, "non-humans". Overcrowding and militarization eventually turn the area into a slum known as District 9. A massive black market is set up between the aliens and a group of Nigerians primarily led by Mumbo, a paraplegic warlord. In addition to inter-species prostitution, the Nigerians exchange canned cat food for alien weapons, of which the cat food has an effect similar to catnip on the aliens.

    The present story takes place in 2010. Patience over the alien situation among the human population of Johannesburg has run out and control over them has been contracted to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company that shows little regard for the aliens' welfare. MNU's actual agenda is their interest in the aliens' advanced weaponry, but its integration with alien biology makes it useless to humans.

    An MNU field operative named Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is tasked with moving 1.8 million aliens to a new camp, District 10, located 240 km from Johannesburg, with help from private security forces working for MNU. MNU teams serving warrants for the relocation of the aliens find caches of contraband items, including weapons, in many alien shacks. Wikus himself oversees several inspections and is assisted by Koobus Venter, a belligerent MNU military operative whose tactics with the aliens are ruthless and cruel. In another shack, not far away, an alien named Christopher distills a mysterious black substance that has taken him 20 years to find the components for and stores it in a small black cylinder. While serving and eviction notice to Christopher, and searching his shack, Wikus finds the cylinder which squirts its contents into his face. He becomes almost instantly nauseous and collects the device as evidence.

    Wikus returns to his office and grows increasingly ill throughout the day, the side-effects of the black fluid becoming more prominent. He returns home that evening and collapses at a surprise party in his house. He is rushed to a hospital where a doctor discovers his left arm has metamorphosed into that of a prawn. Wikus is taken into custody and a series of tests and experiments are performed on him; these reveal that his alien DNA allows him to operate alien weapons with both his human and alien hand. The scientists discover that his DNA is currently "in balance" with the alien DNA, which is gradually transforming him completely into a prawn. With the permission of Wikus' ruthless father-in-law, they decide to harvest his body for biological material at this critical point, to have the greatest chance of replicating his ability to use alien technology in other humans later. To reduce any complications in harvesting, no anesthetic will be used. However, during the attempted vivisection Wikus overpowers his captors and escapes, fleeing from MNU. He finds refuge in District 9.

    Wikus returns to Christopher's run-down shack where he finds the alien's small son. It is hinted that Christopher might be a surviving member of the prawn leadership caste, as he shows much more knowledge of how alien technology works, possesses or at least found the command module, and interacts with MNU officials more articulately than other aliens. Although initially hostile towards Wikus, Christopher eventually agrees to help him reverse the transformation if Wikus will retrieve the fuel in the cylinder he'd seized. Christopher promises to undo the mutation by getting Wikus aboard the mother ship hovering over Johannesburg, and shows Wikus the ship's command module, which has been hidden under his shack for 28 years.

    Wikus steals some alien weaponry from Mumbo and his gang, with Mumbo vowing to capture Wikus and eat his mutated arm (his witch doctor believes this will give him the power to operate the alien weaponry). With Christopher's help they launch an assault on MNU and successfully retrieve the fuel sample. While there, Christopher discovers that MNU has been conducting horrific experiments on his people. Wikus and Christopher fight their way back to District 9 and Christopher begins preparations to leave. He tells Wikus that he must first return to his home world to seek help for his people before he can cure Wikus which will take three years. Furious, Wikus knocks Christopher unconscious and powers up the ship himself. The MNU mercenaries target Wikus and destroy one of the command module's engines, causing it to crash land inside District 9.

    After Wikus is captured by MNU, a battle between the MNU mercenaries and Mumbo's gang breaks out. After a protracted firefight, the Nigerians capture Wikus. Just before Wikus' arm is chopped off, Christopher's son activates several systems in the mothership, including the autopilot routine of a mechanized battle suit; it slaughters Mumbo and his men after they fire on it. Wikus enters the alien walker battle suit, and after initially attempting to flee, returns and rescues Christopher. Armed with a lightning cannon, tracking missiles, and a high-powered machine gun, Wikus begins to fight the MNU men. After being knocked over by an anti-tank sniper round, he convinces Christopher to return to the shuttle without him, over Christopher's objections. Christopher promises Wikus that he will return in three years to repair his body. Christopher then boards the shuttle and activates a tractor beam which returns the command module to the mother ship. The mother ship powers up with a loud, rolling boom and flies off. On TV, humans cheer as the ship leaves Earth.

    Wikus' battle suit is hit in the back and the suit ejects him. Wikus, heavily wounded, begins dragging himself away from Koobus Venter, the sole survivor of an MNU squad, but is quickly caught. As he prepares to shoot Wikus, other prawns appear, attacking and dismembering Venter.

    The film concludes with another series of interviews and news broadcasts, providing human opinions on the events that unfolded. The aliens are successfully moved to District 10, which now has a population of 2.5 million and is growing. One of Wikus' coworkers hacks MNU's database and publicly exposes their illegal genetic experiments. There are many differing theories on Wikus' fate. Some people believe that he either left on the mother ship, is in hiding, was captured by MNU or a government agency. Some interviewees hypothesize that the aliens are planning to return with a full army and declare war on humanity. An interview with Wikus' wife reveals a small metal rose was left on her doorstep (Wikus has earlier demonstrated his affection for his wife with similar handmade gifts). Her friends have told her that it could not have possibly been Wikus, but she appears unsure. In the final scene, an alien with a bandaged left arm is shown in a junk yard fashioning a rose out of scrap metal.

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