A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 237 – District 9

District 9 – October 23rd, 2010

As a general rule, I do not watch movies that will make me feel worse coming out of them than I felt going in. I’m a pessimist by nature. I don’t need movies to reinforce my pessimism. The world does that on a regular basis. My entertainment choices are usually made with an eye towards at least giving me an uplifting ending so I don’t feel like I’ve been kicked in the gut after the credits roll. Sad I can handle. Bleak is another story entirely. And this is bleak. It’s a movie that presents all but maybe a handful of humans as being either outright cruel or willing to turn a blind eye to cruelty. Nice.

I feel ill-equipped to review this movie in a sociological and cultural manner. And I feel like I should be doing just that, but I don’t know enough. I have some touchstones. I can see references to colonialism, apartheid, and every single episode in history where one group of people has marginalized and separated out another group. It’s pretty blatant. This movie isn’t just drawing parallels, it’s highlighting them with neon orange spray paint. The thing is, I am a middle class white woman living in the United States. I grew up in a suburb of Boston and went to a fancy private school. What the fuck do I know about apartheid beyond a handful of history classes in high school and college (and those were focused in other directions than South Africa) and a rather fuzzy memory of seeing The Song of Jacob Zulu on Broadway in middle school? Not much. But I do know when I’m being shown A Message in big blinking neon lights. I might not have taken many courses in African history in college, but I did take enough courses in film criticism and allegory to recognize this movie for what it is.

Of course science fiction is prime material for allegory in that it’s already removed from our own reality. I think I permanently ruined The Matrix for several of my classmates my junior year of college when I gave a presentation on its allegorical content (I probably still have my notes so my review for that one’s all but done!) and Fritz Lang’s Metropolis is a classic example of allegory in film. So I’m not shocked by the allegorical stuff here. I’m not really clear on how anyone could be. The segregation of the aliens into a fenced off ghetto patrolled by armored cars and men with guns, the forced relocation, the callous and casual killing of the aliens and their children, the enforced poverty, the crime, the marginalization and the assumptions. This is all applicable to so many situations, but is clearly meant to point back to South Africa’s own history.

But see, I’m getting all bogged down in the allegory. This is how I ruined The Matrix for people. Because while the allegory can’t be denied, the movie is also a science fiction action film. I could try and comment on how I do find it curious that the factions in the movie are so clearly racially segregated, with the gangs and criminals taking advantage of the ghetto almost uniformly black and the bureaucrats and mercenaries almost all white. But I’m not really versed in the culture this movie is coming from. Was that an intentional move? Was it commentary on social roles in South Africa right now? Traditional/expected roles? Stereotypes? I don’t know. I kind of wish I did. But since I don’t know, I can’t comment on it more than note my noticing it. And that’s a lot of this movie for me. I saw things. I saw horrible things and was able to see the connections I was supposed to see on a superficial level. But on a deeper level I’m just not well enough educated.

So okay, let me try, for a paragraph, to step back from the direct allegory stuff. Let’s look at this from a wider perspective and take it as a science fiction action film with a message about humanity in general. According to this movie, the vast majority of humanity is pretty shitty. The humans we see are either the folks who take advantage of the aliens in the ghetto or they’re the MNU employees, who are just as bad, but in different ways. There are only a handful of people in the movie who aren’t shown to be utter scum. Since a good portion of the movie is told as a documentary about the events that take place within it, we’ve got some sociologists and the like doing interviews and giving opinions (they’re all white, by the way, just thought I’d mention) and they’re pretty neutral. They seem to care, but not be involved in any meaningful way. There’s our protagonist, Wikus, but he doesn’t give much of a damn until he himself is one of the marginalized. His wife, on the other hand, remains stubbornly faithful to him throughout the movie, believing in his innocence despite everything. His potential replacement at MNU, Fundiswa, eventually exposes some of the atrocities MNU has been perpetrating on the aliens. And that’s it. The aliens are persecuted and vilified and trapped and it is horrific. This isn’t a post-apocalyptic movie, but it does have the trappings of a dystopia, it’s just a dystopia for the aliens more than for the humans. A nice little twist on the trope.

Overall, I think I found this a depressing movie because I found the dystopian aspects far too close to reality. The allegory wasn’t removed enough, what with the movie being set in the present day. I understand the movie. Not on the historical level that others probably do. Not the way someone from South Africa might. But I see what it’s saying. I see it and it makes me thoroughly depressed. Depressed enough that it makes the science fiction and action aspects a little too difficult for me to enjoy as cinematic pieces. Even if something doesn’t make me happy I can usually appreciate it and enjoy it as a piece of art. But this was hard. This was a tough one for me to get through and now I need a bushel of puppies and some reminders of the good things humans can do for each other or I won’t want to face the world tomorrow.

October 23, 2010 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , ,

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