District 9 (Probably spoilers)

We saw this last night. I was withholding expectations because people kept saying, “I’ve never seen an alien movie like it!”  It still blew my mind.

There are the obvious parallels to Apartheid in South Africa, pogroms and ghettos in Europe. There are themes of xenophobia and ignorance and intolerance. But the coolest thing about this movie is how it subverts and screws with the concept of  ‘other’.

First of all, the man introduced as the protagonist isn’t anything to admire. We’re used to heroes as our protags, or at least plucky outsiders who prove that they can be more than we ever though. In District 9, the main character is a waffling, cowardly paper pusher. We don’t cheer for him. We wouldn’t even want him for a friend.  I was torn between sympathy and disgust for him throughout the movie. Hard to get behind someone who evokes both of those at the same time.

But that’s the funny thing. He’s a real person. His reactions to circumstances are what probably ninety percent of people would do,  given his situation. He’s a normal guy. Loves his wife.  Copes as best he can with limited understanding of what’s going on around him. Still, we don’t want to be that guy, don’t want to think that our actions would be the same as his.

The antagonist is a multinational corporation, and the quasi-military force it throws around. Easy to hate. Pretty stock, there. Lots of heavy-handed stuff about power, secrecy, corruption, and thugs who love to kill. All of them human.

The character with the most admirable traits is in fact, an alien. He shows compassion, valor, intelligence, and even humour. He’s the one we want to be friends with. He’s the one we want to be like. And he has tentacles on his face!

Ultimately, this is a film about humanity, and the fact that our language and ideas about being human, and what that means, are very different from what being a homo sapien really entails.

10 Comments to “District 9 (Probably spoilers)”

  1. By Arwen, September 5, 2009 @ 6:05 pm

    I thought they did an amazing job of making both the ‘hero’ and the aliens ‘gross’ at the beginning, but more and more sympathetic as the movie ran. And the hero was once the face of the organization that is the antagonist; so there’s the lingering possibility of redeption in all of them. Great film.

    ( It was, however, at the top end of my winceometer, now that I have become cowed by violence in movies. )

  2. By Scott, September 5, 2009 @ 8:09 pm

    Wasn’t that movie incredible? It left me gaping. But besides the emotional impact, I’d also add that, from a admittedly dorky political philosophy point of view, it was excellent at getting the nitty-gritty details of how certain kinds of oppression can work. Forced resettlement is “legal”, because the prawns can be made to sign some random form. But they sign the forms just to get some food. Or because they’re doing so under threat of having their kids taken away—but taken away by another “legal” state mechanism. There’s no way for them to win, even though everything has a sort of patina of legality and civility. I honestly can’t say I’ve ever seen anything like that in such a popular movie.

    Plus, you know, the flower thing at the end made my lip wobble a bit.

  3. By Gecko Bloggle, September 5, 2009 @ 9:07 pm

    Yeah, I loved D9, but I was also at the top end of my cringe-o-sphere, but mostly because the lead (a nobody, if I recall correctly) did a fantastic job of doing the “scared shitless monkey.”

  4. By Liz, September 5, 2009 @ 9:30 pm

    Arwen, I think a lot of the sympathy (I read some reviews about it today) at least for the ‘Christopher Johnson’ alien is that he is the only one who displays human body language. That and what we see of his relationship with his son. (If they are both male, as I’m putting aside feminist questions about leadership and initiative here.) As for Wikus Van Der Merwe, he’s way more sympathetic when he’s not a jaunty little asshole and he’s in a position and doing things that anyone might do in his extreme position. That’s the cool thing.

    Mr Bloggle, he IS a nobody, in Hollywood terms. Known to the writer, apparently, and totally surprised to be cast. And, hell, what a performance!

  5. By Liz, September 5, 2009 @ 9:54 pm

    Scott, the philosophy wonk stuff is still stuff I am working through. The whole idea that one dominant organization can be that overpowering is something we’re used to seeing in movies. We’re not used to seeing how it works on a door-to-door basis, in way that happen in the real world, now, here, to people we identify with.

    Also, I thought I was done the weeping when Christopher and child successfully engaged with the Mothership, and then I was blindsided by the flower thing! Funny how I only felt total sympathy for the character once he was completely ‘other’.

  6. By Arwen, September 5, 2009 @ 10:00 pm

    HEY! NICE THEME!

  7. By Liz, September 5, 2009 @ 10:02 pm

    I KNOW!

  8. By Duncan, September 7, 2009 @ 1:37 pm

    (SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS)

    (SERIOUSLY)

    Hey Liz. You’re right on all counts. Great film. One thing I found, though (that I think you’re missing) is the warlord in the camp. There were TWO forces at work, not just the shadowy, diabolical government organization. There was also the shadowy, diabolical nutbag voodoo brutalitarian arms dealer black market warlord guy. What I thought was interesting was that the warlord wanted to eat Wikus. In a metaphorical way, so did the corporation. There’s the bit where Wikus has that wacky gun trained on the warlord and he just leans into the barrel, enjoying the heat, not scared at all. That’s offset by that horrible soldier douchebag who totally doesn’t flinch when Wikus has a gun on him at the end. It draws parallels between humans in power that aren’t scared by death.

    It left me with a much more scathing commentary on humanity. I didn’t just see the corporation as the one detrimental cliche force but I can see how one might be compelled to see it that way.

    But I could talk about this film for hours.

  9. By Liz, September 7, 2009 @ 3:20 pm

    How could I forget the crazy-ass voodoo warlord?! Good call on the corporation ‘eating’ Wikus as well.

    Re the commentary on humanity, we didn’t come out very well. But the last scenes, with the flower? Not only did they make me bawl like mad, but also said something to me about the nature of love, and that even though we are flawed and make mistakes, there’s something great in people as well, something that can transcend even the most awful things. Dang, I’m tearing up again.

  10. By Duncan, September 8, 2009 @ 5:10 pm

    Yeah, that’s totally what I got out of it. Depths and heights, we’re capable of them all. Great film. I think I’m going to have to see that again sometime soon.

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