Film: Elysium
Starring: Matt Damon, Jodie Foster
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp

One hundred and forty years from now the world as we know it will be a distant memory that future generations will only learn about from faded pages in books left strewn in the streets of once thriving cities. The rich will flee the Earth in hopes of keeping their way of life safe, and in doing so will create an artificial home in space known as Elysium, while the vast majority will be left to wither on a planet that has certainly seen better days. Unemployment will be rampant on Earth, just like crime, but those in the sky will have robot butlers and medical devices capable of healing any disease. You won’t get to choose where you reside, and if you’re born on Earth the chances you’ll ever smell the fresh air of Elysium are slim to none.

Even if you walk out of Neill Blomkamp’s latest film feeling a pinch of disappointment coursing through your veins, you would be hard pressed to find anyone who would claim this young filmmaker does not have a knack for creating believable alternate realities. District 9 opened our minds to one possibility of aliens visiting our home, and with Elysium he’s created a dystopian future unlike anything we have seen before. It may be heady at times, but it’s one of the most enthralling experiences at the box office this summer.

Matt Damon stars as Max, an ex-con who has spent his entire life yearning for a chance to visit Elysium. Having spent a few years in jail on his last get rich quick scheme, Max is now on parole and focused on working his way up from the factory floor where he slaves away all day in spite of numerous offers for additional dirty work. He’s not perfect, but he’s doing his best to be a better person.

At the same time on Elysium, Jodie Foster is busy portraying Delacourt, a high ranking member of society responsible for ensuring the security of the space habitat. She fears the generally peaceful era between the “haves” and “have nots” is coming to an end, and like many leaders before her sees force as the only means of communication. The Earth-dwellers have begun attempting to illegally join the Elysium community, and though her superiors say otherwise she is determined to keep her way of life safe at any cost.

One day, Max’s life takes a turn for the unimaginable when he gets exposed to large amounts of radiation. Faced with the decision to either die or fight, Max must return to a life of crime in order to get to Elysium and access their medical capabilities before time runs out. In doing so he crosses paths with Delacourt, who is busy with a scheme that could forever alter the fate of everyone, and an intergalactic battle different from anything you’ve seen on the silver screen before soon follows.

Neill Blomkamp proved with District 9 that he could create a new reality in a world that felt familiar enough to be our own, and in Elysium he’s done it twice. Both the trash-ridden world Max calls home and the paradise in the sky that Delacourt treasures feel like real environments. It’s not just about introducing characters and plot points with Blomkamp, but entire universes. He wants you to taste the dirty air of Earth and yearn for the crystal clear waters of Elysium. To see the pain of the poor littered amongst the streets of Los Angeles, and the care-free sense of security and happiness painted on the faces of Elysium’s finest. He doesn’t mind taking his time to do this, and it’s because of his patient storytelling that Elysium is such a rousing success. You’re not watching a movie, you’re a part of it.

Choosing story over action is bound to upset a small portion of moviegoers, but diehard science fiction fans and Blomkamp loyalist will find Elysium to be a stunning exercise in original storytelling. The themes of class division and immigration could not be more relevant, but neither is approached in a way that feels preachy. Instead, Blomkamp taps into familiar ideas with unique perspective and delivers a film that proves to be both fun and thought-provoking. It’s certainly not for everyone, but for some it will definitely be one of the year’s best.

Score: A-

Review written by: James Shotwell (Twitter)

James Shotwell
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