Citizens of Earth, People of God

Matt Damon and Alice Braga in Elysium
“Citizens of Earth, People of God”
A Review of Elysium by Nick Olszyk

MPAA Rating, R
USCCB Rating, L
Reel Rating, Four Reels            

            Neill Blomkamp’s sophomore effort feels quite a bit like his first film District 9 only with a much bigger budget and A-list actors. It inhabits the same gritty sci-fi world and explores the themes of xenophobia, immigration, class struggle, and people exploding in a horrific fashion. What Elysium adds is an archetypal narrative to its story making it a worthy entry alongside this year’s Man of Steel in the increasingly large canon of Christ figures. It’s not the masterpiece we expected from such a great directorial start, but it is a spectacular meditation on modern dilemmas that affirms the basic shared dignity of all humans regardless of social categories.
            Like C.S. Lewis, Blomkamp does not paint with a subtle brush. From the first few minutes of the film, it is explained that the 1% have left Earth to live in on a space station paradise called Elysium with no pain, disease, or aging while the rest of humanity is left on the polluted, overpopulated planet to lead short lives of misery building the police robots that will ultimately keep them in their place. All that’s missing is an operatic solo from Jean Valjean. If a person is lucky, he can get a ticket from a space coyote to be illegally transported to Elysium, not to live or work, but simply to reach the miracle Med-Pods that will cure any illness or disability instantly before being found and deported. These scenes are harrowing because every person who lives south of San Francisco knows the truth is even worse. Immigrants don’t come to the United States because they want to break laws; they come to work long, difficult hours in the fleeting promise of a better life for their families. There’s a beautiful moment early in the film where Max and his star crossed lover Frey look longingly as children towards Elysium, which stands out in the sky like the moon. For those of the third world, the United States may as well be another celestial body, totally removed from their everyday reality and just as wondrous to their imagination.
            Soon Max’s dream to go to Elysium becomes a terrible necessity. He is exposed to a lethal dose of radiation and has only days to live. In an act of blind desperation, he agrees to steal bank codes from a wealthy executive in return for a ticket up. Unbeknownst to him, the codes also contain a reboot signal for Elysium’s entire system as part of a coup by the sinister Secretary Delacourt, the head of security for Elysium who believes the President is too soft on the immigrants. This film could have easily turned into a Marxist class struggle ending in the rise of the proletariat. Instead, the villain is not the rich but those like Delacourt who have little concern for the sacredness of life. It’s a refreshing shift. However, the obvious disparity in class remains and its injustice is ever present. The starkest example is the difference in how the classes relate to one another. The rich are totally dependant on technology and clueless to the complexities of the normal life, including how their society is supported by the people on Earth. The poor rely on each other. When they need help, they band together. This is why Jesus indentifies with the poor. We all need the community and the grace of God, but it’s much easier to experience without possessions. This also explains manna’s poor self life.
            Once Max reaches Elysium, his character suddenly shifts to reveal a new element of the plot that brings the film to a whole new level. Rather than simply saving himself, he has the opportunity to reboot the system and make everyone citizens of Elysium, but only through terrible personal cost. Jesus said there is “no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friend,” and there is no greater poverty and material detachment than letting go of life, what St. Ignatius would call “holy indifference.” Throughout the film, the weaker, poorer people end up conquering the rich because they have relationships with one another. At first Max is only concerned with curing himself and has only mixed success. Once he decides to help Frey’s ill daughter, he becomes strong and defeats the enemy. Evil can only use strength and hate, not weakness, love, or self-sacrifice.
            Elysium’s biggest detractor is its excessive violence and vulgar language. It’s not just that it has a lot of violence, but Blomkamp invents futuristic guns that obliterate people into tiny gobs of flesh that unnecessarily splatter everywhere, or as my friend put it “people juice.” It happens so often, in both his films, that it becomes cartoonish which undermines the universal dignity of all people. Granted, when good people die their deaths are slow and tragic, but Christ commanded the love of enemies. Blomkamp has an endless imagination but unfortunately this problem has also become one of his hallmark features.

            Most films are consistently good or bad throughout the story. Elysium, along with a few others like Black Robe, is a rare film that starts weak or mediocre and suddenly blossoms with artistic and emotional fury. Max’s sacrifice reboots the system allowing everyone to become a citizen of Elysium, automatically sending medical assistance to Earth curing countless multitudes. Through the blood of Christ, all people can realize their destiny and become citizens of the Kingdom of God. While still on Earth, those who are fortunate to live in a safe and comfortable environment have a responsibility to share what they don’t need with the less fortunate. Dorothy Day said that the unused coat in the closet belongs to the poor; so does the backup Med-Pod. Every country has a right to safe borders and sane policies, but the United States in particular needs to be generous in it use of resources and helping those who seek freedom in this great land. Regardless of artificial laws and borders, all citizens of Earth are loved by God. Jesus tells his disciples that they must do no less.