District 9 (review)

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WARNING: May contain spoilers.

Science fiction either works or it doesn’t. It can either change the way movie-goers think of cinema and the world around them or it can fall completely flat. The genre walks a very thin line, with one side being completely unbelievable and sometimes laughable and the other masking its nonexistent story with wall-to-wall action in an attempt to make bank at the summer box office. Luckily for us, District 9 is a tight-rope walker extraordinaire. Achieving the perfect balance of action and suspense, District 9 is one of the best sci-fi films I’ve seen in years. Directed by Neill Blomkamp, District 9 proves that good summer movies still exist and that filmmakers don’t have to throw out smart dialogue and a deep, thematic plot in order to deliver spectacular action and visuals.

Following Wikus Van De Merwe, tasked with relocating over 1 million aliens out of Johannesburg where they arrived some 30 years ago, the film takes viewers somewhere very unexpected, greatly differing from the cliche human-meets-alien plot-line. Surprisingly, the film bypasses the usual “what are these things?” introduction and cuts straight to 30 years later, when humans and aliens must find a way to coexist. Behind the mask of some of sci-fi’s most recognizable subjects (aliens vs. humans, grotesque deformations, high-tech machinery, etc.) lies a deep, thematic character commentary highlighting some of mankind’s most infamous qualities: racism, greed, and the unquenchable desire for power. Wikus tackles these demons head-on throughout the film as he is quite literally put into the skin of the thing he knows the least about and thus fears the most: an alien species.

It was not by accident that this film takes place in South Africa. Just as Nate mentioned below, the film seems to be reminiscing about a nation torn in two by apartheid. Much of the film takes place within District 9, a militarized slum where the aliens have been forced to live since their arrival. Filled with pieced together sheds amongst heaps of garbage, District 9 is massive evidence of the oppression forced upon the aliens. Of course racist ideals fuel the human populace’s toleration of such miserable living conditions. This deep-seeded racism is the general theme of the film as Wikus must deal with his own view of the aliens which continual changes as the plot advances.

Wikus Van De Merwe is a seemingly oblivious character to begin with, baring a striking resemblance to Murray from “Flight of the Concords” in both look and speech. Despite being somewhat of an “expert” when it comes to the alien species, Wikus has the longest to go in reversing his racist tendencies and thus proves to be the perfect character to follow. His “playful” racism, however, is juxtaposed with the supporting characters’ “murderous” racism and a clear distinction between good and evil is made.

The imagery of District 9 is simply haunting. Think City of God meets Signs. To think that people actually do live like the aliens in their slums is enough to make you lose sleep. The aliens look perfect, despite the few minutes it takes to get used to them; not once was I forced back into the reality of the theatre to think “that’s fake.” The nonstop violence of the second half rarely gives the viewer time to take a breath. Despite the few comedic moments designed to break the ice, District 9 is an intense film that does not get bogged down with making the viewer feel safe. Each piece of the narrative, from Wikus’ efforts to redeem himself to the aliens’ attempt to return home and the forces that be fighting against them both, ties together in one neat package with no thrown in side stories that go nowhere or useless characters that just get in the way. Blomkamp does a great job keeping the plot focused and every character doing exactly what they should be doing.

Overall District 9 is an amazing achievement that greatly exceeded any expectations I had going into it. Thus far it is easily one of the top five movies of the year and probably the most entertaining and masterful sci-fi movies I’ve seen in quite a long time.


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