Favela Ninjas and Apartheid Samurai

13 August 2013, 2016 EDT

Neill Blomkamp’s “Elysium” packs a punch for an action sci-fi film even if its punches don’t land.

So yeah … Jodie Foster doesn’t give her best performance and the other roles for women in the film are completely lame.  A beefy Matt Damon, bless his heart, is poorly cast.  The core plot line doesn’t make much sense.  Look, let’s face it, there is just no way Blomkamp can match the brilliance of his earlier hit, “District 9.”

Nevertheless, this film plays well with a range of contemporary possibilities/anxieties in the Global North: post-human bodies, surveillance drones, biometrics, the carceral archipelago, the securitization of migration, mega-favelas/globalized Gaza, privatized militaries, socialized medicine, the hierarchy of tongues, etc.

The film reminds us that globalization is as much about the construction of borders as their elimination.  It shows just how uncomfortable we are with liberal ideas in practice.  And it forces us to think about the reality of structural violence in our daily lives.

So how could this film have been better?  First, Blomkamp should have been forced to read Partha Chatterjee’s The Politics of the Governed.  The depiction of life in the shanty town bears little resemblance to reality in many parts of the world.  Second, Blomkamp really needed to meditate on gender roles. Yes, it is completely hilarious to model Jodie Foster’s wicked character on Christine Lagarde, but that only gets you so far. Third, Blomkamp needed to study the global 1% a little more carefully, there’s a bit more diversity than the film acknowledges.  Fourth, he should have added a discussion of intellectual property rights to give the film’s core plot line some coherence — of course, any such discussion would ironically have to indict the American film industry itself.