The Two Tiers


Neil Blomkamp’s ELYSIUM has the same strengths and weaknesses as his DISTRICT 9, which at least shows he doesn’t absolutely need Peter Jackson sitting on his shoulder to pull off a scifi splatterfest that yokes interesting ideas to the mayhem. I’m not aware of another FX movie this season that preaches in favour of universal health care, nor one with such a tasty design sense — GRAVITY is a more beautiful film by far, and UNDER THE SKIN a more peculiar one, but if you’ve been starved of strong bloody mayhem since Verhoeven departed Hollywood, as I feel I have, this movie will certainly give you your dismemberment fix.

The basic premise of a divided society has been a staple of SF movies since METROPOLIS, and conceptually all Blomkamp adds is that, rather that sinking the proles beneath the Earth, he elevates the elite to a space station. And ties the results to modern American life as Romero did in LAND OF THE DEAD. He also equips the 1% with domestic med-bays which are able to heal virtually any injury short of death. This technology is apparently free, which begs the question why the top dogs guard it so jealously — one of a number of logical flaws which you have to overlook in order to enjoy Matt Damon’s grand guignol suffering, the Peckinpah wet-dream carnage, or the lovely and often original production design.

There’s also Blomkamp’s trademark shakicam, which at times gives the impression that he’s rested his lens on a washing machine as it hits the spin cycle. This inevitably costs him coherence, and there’s a crucial bit of business involving a grenade during the final hero-villain scrap which just isn’t discernible at all. You can figure out afterwards what happened, but having to re-frame and re-edit on the filmmaker’s behalf does take you out of the movie. Not many things take me out of a movie short of an armed escort, but that does.


The sheer excess of poor Damon’s brutalizing made me wonder if I wasn’t seeing another kind of Verhoeven homage — the Killer Christ Figure (Robocop walks on water at the end of ROBOCOP — in order to stab a guy in the throat). The metallic exoskeleton he’s bolted into is like an articulated crucifix, and his other injuries include, if I recall correctly, not one but two stabs to the side, and an internal crown of thorns in the form of a direct-to-the-brain data upload of poisonously encrypted information. I don’t know what the biblical equivalent of the radiation overdose is, but we do know the Messiah gave off some kind of energy when he was reborn, because how else do we explain his bloody wrappings turning into photographic paper and capturing his image? And don’t give me all that Renaissance forgery bit.

But to return to the Passion of Max Da Costa — I dig how the orangey shanty-town sprawl of LA represents the have-nots, while the have’s live in a star-shaped space station whose interior looks like Beverly Hills. The metaphor is pretty clear, and if the film is not about Earth VS Space but about a divided America, then it’s presumably about Obamacare?

Elysium - 3

I do think it’s a shame that the wideshot of the skyscrapers, fantasticated with platforms and extensions added on willy-nilly to deal with SOYLENT GREEN levels of overpopulation, never reappear after the establishing sequence — what a great setting for an action sequence those could be, with characters parkouring through the vertical barrio and leaping from tower to tower like Rick Baker in the DeLaurentiis KONG.

Fiona wanted to know what Jodie Foster was trying to do with her accent. I don’t rightly know. I think it’s a waste of the unrivaled naturalism she displayed as a kid, to see her so mannered and self-conscious, but I don’t know if it was a deliberate effect she was going for. Fiona also felt it was a shame that bad guy Sharlto Copley, who gives a very zestful performance, didn’t have a single line that wasn’t a crusty cliché. She’s not wrong. That we still enjoyed the film must be because enough interesting ideas and images survived the journey through Blomkamp’s mental mixmaster — if he could trust himself to slow down a little bit, we’d really have something.


12 Responses to “The Two Tiers”

  1. I think part of the reason Jodie Foster’s accent was all messed up because she was overdoing the disdain, which took all the rhythm out of her speech. I’d like to do a SPOILER now, so LOOK AWAY PLEASE.

    Why is everything solved at the end because everyone gets free healthcare? The world is horrendously overpopulated so curing all the diseases is only going to make the situation worse. It’s like the end of WALL-E, where everyone moves back to Earth because some robot found a single piece of cress. Everything is ruined!

  2. Glad you liked it David. More spoilers

    Wasnt entirely sure why Max had to die at the end – did I miss some crucial bit of info. And v glad that the girl didn’t turn out to be his daughter in the last few mins.

  3. Jodie’s naturalism evaporated years ago. Now her identikit role is that of a cold-blooded corporate “fixer” like the one she played in Inside Man

  4. Spoiler alert —

    Middle-aged actresses are too often typecast as corporate witches.

    Max dies because the info in his head is encrypted with something that will kill him if it’s downloaded. Although why he was able to get it into his head in the first place is mysterious.

    I would have liked the film’s ending to be that universal healthcare is declared, and Elysium dispatches its three flying ambulances to carry this out. Tiny spaceships heading towards vast planet… the idea that they’re going to be able to fix human suffering is absurd.

  5. Lawrence Chadbourne Says:

    Hi David: I enjoyed the bit about how the elite such as Jodie threw in dialogue in French, whereas the proles sometimes spoke Spanish. Even duelling Romance languages are brought into the fray!

  6. I don’t know what the French thing was for, unless someone felt the movie was too liberal and a French baddie would help bring the Red states along for the ride.

  7. I think Foster is fluent in French … so maybe thats why they threw it in but yes… the duelling languages of class!

  8. Lawrence Chadbourne Says:

    Yes, maybe she wanted to show off her French. I also thought at first, since I saw the picture in Canada, that she was supposed to be a bilingual Canadienne, but there was no other evidence for that in the story and whatever people have said about her accent it wasn’t Canadian or Quebecois.

  9. There I go again – claiming I shall be discreetly quiet, and then I say something anyway and subsequently won’t shut up.

  10. Where did my first comment go?
    Oh well, try again:
    Having just won a bottle of champagne for my comments in Time Out London regarding this movie (‘Reader Review of the Week! or some such), I shall maintain a discreet silence but having lived for a quarter century as a naturalized citizen of the United States, a country I love but which I have navigated without health insurance for many of those 25+ years, I adored Elysium and frequently am dismayed by the snarkiness (US) and snottiness (UK) directed at Blomkamp’s epic. Foster did what she was asked to do, case closed. And I could *eat* Matt Damon (although he was at his most edible in Van Sant’s underrated and under-released PROMISED LAND, another movie with an explicitly, overtly, political agenda) .
    Just saw Daniel Radcliffe splendid as Ginsberg in KILL YOUR DARLINGS, btw, and yesterday was thrilled by PRISONERS (featuring Hugh Jackman’s best work), another movie which locates a core of American paranoia, fear and insecurity in the heart of suburban-rural Pennsylvania. Romero would be proud.

  11. Your first comment is still awaiting moderation — for some reason WordPress didn’t recognise you (are you using a different computer?). I could approve the comment now but there’s little point as you’ve slipped a duplicate past the goalie.

    One thing that’s a little disappointing to me: the movie ends with two underclass toughs slugging it out, sidelining the class war theme by pushing Foster’s character aside and even striving to give her a little sympathy. I want to see US blockbusters about class warfare, and I’m convinced the theme would be popular — the same way every Bruckheimer movie score points with Joe Sixpack by trashing a snooty German’s Mercedes (though this scene stands out rather glaringly in The Lone Ranger).

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