What entered the public spectrum under the guise of a generic Science-Fiction action movie in 2009, quickly became one of my favorite films of all time. District 9 is a little South African picture that caused big waves by taking an, all too often, formulaic genre flick and changed the rules of the game. Good fantasy often has roots grounded in reality, morals and social themes. District 9 certainly doesn’t shy away from that model, however the way it shows us those truths and ideas (from the standpoint of most of the North American audience) is entirely unfamiliar. This is Neill Blomkamp’s directorial debut is certainly a powerful one. He manages to work the modern politics and travesties taking place in his home country and show them to the world disguised as an alien flick.
District 9 focuses on a group of alien life forms that have crash landed and sought refuge on earth; specifically Johannesburg, South Africa. The prawn like creatures are corralled into a refugee camp with awful living conditions. Instead of the alien invasion being a threat to humanity, they are left to our mercy. The question is, how is humanity handling their presence? Wikus Van De Merwe is tasked by a, government hired, private organization to inform the residents of the slum known as District 9 that they are being evicted. Wikus is our focal point. We follow him and see the events of the film from his point of view. Considering that he is incredibly unlikeable at the start of the film, this is a bold move. It is, however, a bold move that allows us to experience an incredibly potent character arch.
Wikus is a man that could be representative of anyone. He is a weak man, a bigoted worker who thinks highly of himself and very little for the aliens he is tasked with protecting. The majority of the population really could care less about the rights of the interstellar refugees. The “real world application” is glaringly obvious, they represent real world counterparts seeking asylum, not from other planets, but other countries. In the director’s commentary we learn that the aliens are symbolic for the Nigerian refugees in South Africa. Through the eyes of Wikus we see the sickening consequences of intolerance. When a hatred becomes common place in society it becomes horrifyingly easy to cross moral lines that would otherwise be considered unforgivable. Through the course of the film Wikus is forced to see through the eyes of those he has dedicated his life to persecute (all under the mask of protecting them, of course). Paul Boyne and I discuss this movie far more in depth on our joint endeavor of a blog; Gaffer Macguffin’s Movie House.
The movie offers plenty of weighty material for discussion, but it is also an extremely exciting Sci-Fi. Wikus joins forces with Christopher Johnson, one of the aliens who is attempting to fix a ship to get back home. During their stint together we’re given unique action sequences with cool alien technology. The us of special effects to show the alien technology and fighting tactics is just as dirty and realistic as the humans forces, allowing us to see just how messy a slum war can be. District 9 is, by all means, a slum; it is a near concentration camp environment where gangs rule and the aliens are third class citizens.
The horrors contained in this movie are fantastical in their depiction against extra terrestrial life forms, however replace the aliens with humans and we see something far too familiar in human history. Blomkamp mixes awesome Sci-Fi storytelling with creative and exiting action sequences matched with relevant moral applications. It’s much more than “this is right and that’s wrong” rather it shows a reality with uncomfortable truths hidden behind CGI.