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The Drought Has Ended

Movie Title: District 9 (2009)
Spoilers: No

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There is a cliché, a tepid and worn-out saying that goes: “Truth is stranger than fiction.” It is worn-out because it is so old and so used. It sounds simple, but the veracity of the truth behind the pronouncement is something that no one can prepare for until they have seen it. The saying tells us that when life “happens,” it does so in a way that no one would dream up. You can’t create something as crazy as life!

Movies often fail because they fail to successfully emulate reality. They do this by lacking the chief element of reality, which is unpredictability. When the thinking viewer starts to get the impression that what is being watched is something that the viewer expects to see, there is a rightly perceived drop-off in quality. Once the movie loses its connection to reality, it becomes a predictable piecemeal production for film junkies who don’t want to think or to be challenged.

Usually, it’s the movies not getting reality right, but in the case of District 9, you have a movie that doesn’t get fantasy right. This one is so off-the-beaten-path, so implacably weird that you sit in your seat and you say to yourself: “No one in their right mind would create such a beautifully contorted mess!” Nobody expects fantasy like this! It tears a hole in our expectations like a moth-eaten garment.

The scaled down camerawork gives the intended feel of a documentary made from 6 o’ clock news coverage. The dialogue…it’s as unspectacular as watching an episode of COPS. Aliens wearing red vests, being pinned up in South Africa with a craving for cat food…it should have been laughed out of the theater ten times over…but it wasn’t!

I wasn’t laughing. I was in complete awe, and not because of the aliens with their almost traditional appearances or their use of DNA-based super weaponry. In District 9, there is no snobbery. The writing is not too good to flaunt techno-sophistication. It makes no attempt to hide its likeness to more familiar films where extraterrestrials could be called human-like in many ways.

The teasing restraint with which the story unfolds, the notably non-American feel, the slow-but-informative beginning – combined with a most unexpected plot – puts it in a class by itself. Incredible!

In the past, stories about alien invasions have generally been about aliens trying to take Earth’s resources. For years, we’ve been hearing about Earth, the envied planet, and about malevolent conquests. That is “old hat.” It’s been done before, and it isn’t done in District 9. The aliens aren’t the invaders. They look like beasts, but they are most positively not. The humans are more beastly than the “prawns,” the derogatively named and segregated beings. But the movie takes no sides. There are no good guys.

The human animal’s potential for hate-based atrocity is boundless, and so it is with any species capable of devaluing minority life in favor of their own. It is fear and a misguided sense of self-preservation that makes us so deadly. That premise crosses the boundary between human and non-human. We do what any intelligent species would do—we try to survive by making sure the other guy’s “missile” isn’t bigger than our own.

We’ll kill our own kind just like we dissect those not of our kind in the labs if it keeps us erecting bigger missiles. We hate those who are not like us…and we hate those who are like us. Someone is always looking to make a profit at the expense of poverty and pain and the misfortune of others. There is no sense of brotherhood when survival and corporate profit is at stake.

The year is 2010. Sharlto Copley is Wikus Van De Merwe, a promoted agent of Multi-National United, a large weapons technology corporation. His assignment is to re-locate almost two million aliens who have been subjected to conditions of squalor since their arrival in Johannesburg, South Africa nearly 20 years earlier. Because of civil unrest, the aliens must be moved from district nine to district ten. But De Merwe is about to learn that taking a paycheck from a deep-pocketed weapons corporation has a potentially big downside!

You won’t care about how powerful the laser guns are, but you’ll get to see plenty of destruction from them. That’s what you want, isn’t it? You won’t want that for long. But that’s the problem…we are so ready to kill. We expect it, and in some cases, enjoy it. We won’t stop killing until we find ourselves on the side of the downtrodden as we hurt with them and bleed with them.

On the list of concerns, the science fiction element is a distant second to the story. Good movies have something to say. District 9 has many things to say. The finely combed plot and multi-tiered sub-plots bring meaning to the whole story. I am still stunned. I may have to see it again.

Under the directional debut of Neill Blomkamp, with Peter Jackson as lead producer, District 9 will be the influential standard-setter for sci-fi works over the next 10 years. Alas, the long awaited end to the quality sci-fi movie drought is here!

(JH)

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Grade: A+ (4 stars) Recommended!
Rated: R
Summation: An extraterrestrial race forced to live in slum-like conditions on Earth suddenly find a kindred spirit in a government agent that is exposed to their biotechnology.
Director: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley “Wikus Van De Merwe,” Jason Cope “Grey Bradnam - UKNR Chief Correspondent,” Nathalie Boltt “Sarah Livingstone – Sociologist,” Sylvaine Strike “Dr. Katrina McKenzie,” Elizabeth Mkandawie “Interviewee,” John Summer “Les Feldman - MIL Engineer,” William Allen Young “Dirk Michaels,” Greg Melvill-Smith “Interviewer,” Nick Blake “Francois Moraneu - CIV Engineer Team”
Genre: Sci-fi / Drama / Adventure / Thriller

Comments

  1. Excellent movie this - took me by surprise (being from South Africa myself). Apparently Neill is already working on another movie - something to look forward to.

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  2. I love how this movie reverses the traditional human-alien film interactions. Usually the aliens are oppressing the humans, trying to exterminate all people. In this movie, however, the humans are mistreating the aliens, forcing them to live in a slum. Besides the originality of the movie, the story was quite open-ended, providing an opportunity for the viewer to ponder what Wikus's ultimate fate might be.

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