Review: The Grim, Hard Scifi of Elysium

matt damon as a cyborg, running

matt damon as a cyborg, runningElysium is grimy, bloody, hard science fiction.  It’s the kind of believable dystopian vision of the future that could influence your decision to produce offspring. It is a cyberpunk nightmare made real. Go see it.  

Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, Elysium does what science fiction is supposed to do; ask how the technologies of today will advance into solutions for the problems of tomorrow, and at what human cost.  The answers aren’t pretty.  Blomkamp reimagines many of the difficult issues of our time still being a struggle despite the existence of technologies that seem to offer miraculous solutions.  

As Max Da Costa, Matt Damon is bald, dirty, and oozing blood and ick from open sores after his exoskeleton is attached.  Max is smart and resourceful, and desperate.  He lets a back alley surgeon turn him into a cyborg in order to perform a heist on security information uploaded into a billionaire’s brain.  (That’s right, William Gibson fans and Shadowrun players, this movie was made for you!)

Earth is something of a living hell, overpopulated, no animals, everything from the air to the water generally filthy.  Elysium is, well, “A place or state of perfect happiness.”  It’s lush and green and looks like a rich neighborhood in California today.  They have machines up there that can heal pretty much any disease or injury, and the poor down on Earth know it.  There’s an entire black market dedicated to getting people up there, usually to use the Med Bays.  Enter Secretary Delacourt.

Evil Jodie Foster is a terrifying thing to behold.  As Secretary of Defense Delacourt, she is completely devoted to protecting Elysium from the squalling peasant horror that is Earth, and will stop at nothing to do her job.  She’s like a meld of the brains of Hillary Clinton and Dick Cheney.  Chew on that bad dream for a minute.  I can’t speak too much to her character without spilling some unforgivable spoilers, so suffice to say that she is not afraid to use her power to protect what is hers.

And of course there is Delacourt’s mad pet dog, Agent Kruger (Sharlto Copley).  If you look past the beard, you may remember this guy; he played Wikus van der Merwe, the lead character in Blomkamp’s last scifi hit, District 9.  As Kruger, he is the most disturbing thing in this film. A raging psychopath, convicted rapist, and beefed up with the most advanced cyborg tech, he is a monster. A monster backed by the money and authority of Elysium, beefed up with the most advanced cyborg tech.  The fight scenes between Kruger and Max are basically cyborgs fighting an MMA match, and it is awesome.

The cheese factor in Elysium is actually pretty low.  The space station is believable, the cyborg tech will probably be here in a few years, and Los Angeles as urban desert in 2154 is not a stretch at all.  The only really cheesy points in the film are dialogue, which occasionally tries too hard.  Fortunately, it isn’t bad enough to distract from the movie, and is literally my only complaint.  Less than stellar dialogue is a very minor sin in the SF genre.  Overall, Elysium is a damn good science fiction film.