Thursday, August 22, 2013

All Roads Lead to Elysium

Smart science-fiction has always been able to take important, and often controversial, issues and present them in such a way that the audience can view them from a different perspective. Just as he did with District 9, director Neill Blomkamp takes problems from our modern world and sets them in the nearish future, projecting them to their extremes. With District 9 he examined the anti-immigration sentiment that seems to be woven into the human fabric. This time he tackles the global disparity between rich and poor, and the ever growing police state designed to protect wealth and criminalize poverty.  

Elysium uses health care to encapsulate the entire discussion. In the future, the rich have abandoned a polluted earth in favor of their state of the art space station. While the working class is left on the surface to suffer brutal conditions and scrape by however they can, the wealthy live in a blissful utopia where they still play elaborate games like politics. They also have homes equipped with healing machines that can cure any sickness. This is the main reason people on the surface risk their lives to make the illegal journey. They know they will be caught and sent back almost immediately, but if they can get to a healing machine before then, it will all be worth it. 

The movie hits at the heart of the debate over healthcare that has been taking place over the past few years. Back when the first proposals for reform were made, and the ignorant masses took to town hall meetings, you heard a lot of "But America has the best health care in the world!" That statement is fractionally true. It may very well be the best, but only if you are rich. If you are working class, it's marginal at best. The debate then becomes about why things like medicine and care are treated like commodities, and why is one life more valuable than another simply because one has more money? 

The fact that the movie was able to turn these issues into a blockbuster action flick is a small miracle of its own. Forgetting the politics, Elysium holds its own as a futuristic Robo-Cop meets Bladerunner action thriller. The fact that it also makes people stop and think about what's happening around them is just a bonus. And while the movie may not have been a revelatory experience, intelligent film making like this is still rare these days and deserves all the attention it gets for showing the masses that social consciousness can be entertaining.

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