Movies / Movie Reviews

Elysium - Science Fiction as Political Economy

By Hervé St-Louis
January 1, 2015 - 00:00

Elysium is set in 2154 where the infamous one percent of the population of Earth – the richest of the richest live in an orbital station free of all the troubles and poverty plaguing the human population. Here Max, a former convict who works in factory receives a fatal dose of radiation and must travel to Elysium from the wreck of Los Angeles to receive treatment. But this treatment is only for citizens of Elysium.

Elysium is a political economic critique of our post 2008 market crash society that got itself caught in the American culture wars over liberty and equality. South African writer-director Neill Blomkamp teams up with liberal actor Matt Damon to tell this story which is a direct critique of our current society through science fiction. Many will focus on the inconsistencies in the story such as why do humans have to do any kind of hard labour work and expose themselves to dangerous radiation when there are robots that could do this kind of work. Others will call this film a treacherous Marxist critique that dares to challenge capitalism and display anything but jingoistic American values on screen.

The story focused more on the mechanics of getting Max up in space and his connection with a past friend rather than political theory. Yet the message is clear and even in Eden, there are problems and competing interests. This is the aspect of the film that I was mostly interested in. I wish that Blomkamp had shown more about the society on Elysium. For example, do they have an underclass that serves the very rich much like the maid and butler system of Victorian England? Did they manage to keep copies of the last extinct exotic animals on Earth? What about other areas on the planet. How deep did the devastation go? What is the economy below.

In 1989, when Tim Truman and John Ostrander rebooted comic book super hero Hawkman, they had a similar caste of floating cities hovering the slums of planet Thanagar. I always liked this aspect of the comic book. Elysium’s designers did research the world of Elysium although we saw very little of the outsides. What surprised me the most was that they had designed a system that allowed the atmosphere to remain on the satellite without having to build a dome over their cities. I wonder how they dealt with cosmic radiation or the quality of the air so far off the ground.

As an action movie, it had some cool visual effects with the new weapons used. Some of the effects seemed gruesome for some. I thought that having a guy’s face blown off and having him survive the ordeal was swell.

Science fiction’s role if often to offer a political economic and critical fictional critique of our current society. I believe that Elysium is tethered to our current political and economic discourse and this is why this film is relevant and will irk Randians and Conservatives. Few movies dare to so this is an accomplishment.

Rating: 7.5 /10

Last Updated: March 10, 2022 - 22:00

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