From novels like Brave New World and A Canticle For Leibowitz, to such film classics as Soylent Green, Rollerball, and A Clockwork Orange, science fiction, especially dystopian science fiction, has long been a vehicle for thinly veiled social commentary.
On many occasions, science fiction has predicted and/or criticized issues surrounding overpopulation, state control, even corporate evil and greed, sometimes individually, often in combination. So too did Neill Blomkamp’s District 9 and, a few years later, Elysium which more or less came and went. I saw it. At the time, I found it a little chilling but still considered it a science fiction/action vehicle. Matt Damon after all.
Cue the trump administration and the attempted repeal of The Affordable Care Act, and suddenly Elysium becomes a horror movie.
Set in 2154, Earth has become overpopulated, severely polluted, and nearly unliveable. The government officials, the rich, the powerful live on a space station called Elysium where they remain blissfully disconnected from, out of touch with, and outright hostile to anyone and anything that might interfere with corporate and government interests.
Cross out “space station.” Insert “District Of Columbia.” And that only scratches the surface of the horrifying metaphor Elysium has become.
Blomkamp uses the same language as the most venal of the republicans: terms like “illegals” and “homeland security.” In the world of the movie, illegals are the mostly the non-white poor of Earth who try to get to Elysium. Preventing this is the main antagonist, Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Of course it’s “De La” (of the) Court (the power structure, the administration, those in control). What the hell else could it be?
I’ll let Madame Secretary sum herself up in her own words: “I understand that it is not the fashion to think and to act as I do. I understand that perfectly. But when they come for your house, for the house you built for your children and your children’s children, it won’t be PR and campaign promises that keep them out. It will be me.”
Only I can keep them out. Them. The illegals. Cuz they’re coming for your stuff. Blomkamp couldn’t have been more prophetic if he’d given Jodie Foster an orange spray tan, ludicrous comb-over, nitroglycerin-like instability, and teeny hands.
The central conflict arises when Max (Matt Damon) endures a lethal dose of radiation. The only way he can save himself is to use a Med-Bay, a machine that finds and corrects any and everything that’s wrong with you. But there’s a catch. There always is. The only people with Med-Bays are, you guessed it, Elysians. Fictional technology aside, it’s easy to imagine this kind of situation under some Draconian Orange Julius Caesar. Fact is, the parallels to be drawn between Elysium’s future and our present are staggering.
It’s interesting, for example, that the people who live on Elysium are overwhelmingly white.
It’s interesting that the people on Earth are overwhelmingly not.
It’s interesting that the police are nothing more than heavily weaponized droids programmed to keep the poor in line through intimidation and violence (as are the parole officers, one of which reminds Max, “It is a federal offense to abuse a parole officer”).
It’s interesting that Delacourt attempts to steal the presidency by making a deal with a bureaucratic thug to hack into Elysium’s system.
It’s interesting that what passes for “healthcare” on Earth often comes in the form of a diagnostic, pill-dispensing robot. Ask yourself how long it takes to get to a human being when you call your healthcare provider. Ask yourself how far down this road we’ve already come.
And finally, it’s interesting that the “leaders” on Elysium have access to all the healthcare they will ever need and how comfortable they are to let the poor die by denying any, much less universal, access to it.
If you haven’t seen Elysium, see it. See it now. If you’ve seen it already, see it again. Watch closely. Pay attention. More importantly, remember it.
Like I said yesterday, I hope a lesson has been learned.
Whew, a whoppin’ 62 onscreen
(including robots–no reason to be sapienist about it)