Scott, Matt Damon is back with a new action/adventure movie: Elysium.
(Dr. Scott Allison, Professor of Psychology, University of Richmond)
Yes, he’s back and he’s a born hero on a mission. Or should I say ‘bourne’?
It’s 140 years in the future and Earth is barely habitable. The rich have a solution, though. The privileged have built a space station where they can live in luxury and free of disease. Elysium is a paradise for the few with the means to get there. But occasionally some illegally land on Elysium and, with faked citizenship credentials, jump into one of the healing chambers (which look alarmingly like tanning booths) and are 100% cured of all ills, including cancer.
Matt Damon plays Max Da Costa, a blue-collar worker on Earth who leads a tough life but dreams of one day making it to Elysium. In an accident at work, Max sustains a lethal dose of radiation and has only five days to live. His sole chance of survival is to reach Elysium’s healing chambers. He contacts a man named Spider (Wagner Moura) who will send Max to Elysium but only if Max hacks the codes of entry into Elysium from John Carlyle (William Fichtner), the corporate liaison to Elysium’s government.
Meanwhile, back on Elysium, Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) has worked out a deal with Carlyle: bring me the codes to reboot Elysium (and turn the control over to her) and he will get contracts to support Elysium for the next 200 years.
Max is injured in his attempt to extract the codes from Carlyle and turns to old friend Frey (Alice Braga) to fix him up. He befriends Frey’s young daughter who has cancer and decides that the three of them will go to Elysium to get fixed up. Now, all the players are in place and we’re off!
Greg, I liked this movie. And what a nice change of pace, to be able to say that I really enjoyed a movie after a summer in which excellence in film-making was beginning to look like a lost art. What exactly made Elysium so appealing? For starters, the premise is interesting, if not original. We are witness to socioeconomic stratification and elitism taken to a fascinating extreme.
We also have an exemplary hero journey with unusual depth. Matt Damon plays a hero role reminiscent of an ancient Greek tragic hero. As a young boy, Max is prophesied by a spiritual figure to make a special contribution to humanity. Elysium resembles the story of Christ, too. Max is a born hero, fated to suffer greatly at the hands of his oppressors, and destined to die to save the world. It’s all very powerful.
I think Elysium was a well-constructed movie with a lackluster message. Writer/director Neill Blomkamp brought his experience from District 9 to build a universe with dexterous androids, nimble airships, and a beautiful space station. Upon this foundation he laid a story of class warfare (see The Purge) and really clumsily executes it. The message we’re supposed to take away is that if everyone who made it to Elysium (an allegory for the United States) were allowed to take advantage of the excesses there (health care) everyone would live happily ever after.
The people of Elysium are painted as narcissistic and oblivious to the problems of Earth. The leader Delacourt even wants to eliminate access to Elysium by anyone who is not already there. The parallels to the United States’ illegal immigration problem is clear. But what is not clear is the simplistic answers that Blomkamp offers. Apparently if you don a very powerful exoskeleton and download secret codes into the superpowers’ computers, everyone will get free health care. I didn’t follow the metaphor.
I just viewed the inclusion of exoskeletons as a means of evening up the technological playing field with Elysium’s ultra-strong Androids who protected Eylsium from the Earth’s masses.
If I had a criticism of Elysium, it is with the monolithic way that the film portrays the rich and the poor. The rich are depicted as universally bad and the poor as universally good. I believe the movie would have benefited from including at least one privileged character on Elysium who was sympathetic to the suffering on earth and who assists Matt Damon on his quest to free Earth from the oppression.
But overall, the characters are strong and memorable. Jodie Foster’s icy cold performance strikes exactly the right diabolical notes, and Sharlto Copley as Kruger effectively displays a fearsome, pathological streak of cruelty. I also enjoyed the inclusion of Frey and her daughter, who is also in desperate need of a healing chamber. The dynamic of all these characters, along with some excellent directing, editing, and pacing, all made for a great movie experience.
I was confused by Jodie Foster in this movie. She’s a great actress and was strangely underutilized. And, they overdubbed her voice with some sort of semi-British accent. I like Jodie Foster’s voice so I don’t know why they felt the need to change it.
Matt Damon does a great job of playing a man who has a past and is just trying to get by. When he is unfairly treated and irradiated he turns into a man who is out to do whatever it takes to save himself. But when he decides to save a helpless little girl, he becomes a proper hero. As you point out the villains in the story are patently evil and give little for Damon to play against.
For a good, balanced set of visuals offset by a clumsily executed message I give Elysium a score of just 3 Reels out of 5. In order to get another Reel I would want to see more interaction between Damon and Foster and more complicated villains. I give Matt Damon 3 out of 5 Heroes for his portrayal of a man put in an impossible situation who ends up saving a planet. It’s a simplistic character but Damon plays it very well.
I obviously enjoyed this movie more than you did, Greg. Elysium provides the perfect boost to the end of the summer malaise that has gripped the movies of late. We don’t just have excellent action and mind-blowing CGI effects. We are also treated to a clever movie premise featuring memorable characters caught up in a compelling story. I believe Elysium has earned 4 Reels out of 5.
And as noted earlier, Elysium’s strong hero journey led to our hero through all the classic stages. There is a call to adventure, a missing quality that the hero must obtain, an appealing love interest, two formidable villains, help from unlikely sources, and a selfless choice that needs to be made at the end. Max fulfills his destiny and shows all the traits of a great heroic figure. For this reason I’m happy to say that the character of Max Da Costa earns 4 Heroes out of 5.