Elysium is a sci-fi film that seemed to bear some resemblance to another film that came out earlier this year, namely, Oblivion. The trailer for this film suggested that it was going to be a "guy from the slums will take on the elite force of the rich and overthrow the system" type story. And, for the most part, it was.
Overall, this was a decent movie. From very early on in the film you can tell that the director had a clear vision of what he wanted this world to look like. The characters were strong and memorable characters, the design of Elysium was fairly unique and distinctive (well, for the modern audience anyway), and despite the presence of shaky cam, most of the action was fairly fun.This film will hold your gaze for the 2 hour as long as you like action or big idea films.
However, I did not find it a very satisfying experience as a sci-fi/action film. It flirted with powerful themes and had the potential to be social commentary, but it mostly gives you a backdrop to draw your own conclusions and speculate. They successfully build up a lot of tension, anticipation and curiosity, but nothing is revealed, and even less is resolved. A lot happens, but it feels like a lot more should have. Despite the intended message, this film leaves you in disbelief that Elysium is at all real. It feels more like a rich person's dream being interrupted by a poor person's dream, and that the natural forces of the real world would have prevented the scenario in the film from ever taking place. A rude awakening.
Nonetheless, I can't say the film is bad. It does try, and there were a few moments that were genuinely shocking and horrifying. I stayed engaged till the end, hoping that they would have tied up some loose ends. And even though they didn't, at least I wasn't bored by the direction they took the film. Elysium is not great even by other films from this year, but it's nowhere near the bottom. It is one of those films that tries to join the Elysium of the film world, but is stopped en route in the vast vacuum of space by a weapon of their own making.
6.0 / 10.0
Lets start off by saying what I appreciated about this film. I really liked the themes in this film. There is some time spent observing how the rich people live on Elysium, and in particular the cure-for-everything "Med-Pod", which is an important plot device, and represents how health care is exclusive to the wealthy by means of class-based citizenship.
The whole concept of having a hospital in your home is very similar to the public and private health systems in many countries. The ending contains a scene where, after the class barrier has been 'broken' by hacking the Elysium mainframe, an army of autonomous ambulances docked on Elysium immediately rushes back to Earth to cure the poor who are viewed as citizens as well.
While the 'equal right to life' bit is clear, they didn't take it to the next step and suggest whether those services are sustainable on the global scale. There is almost a communistic tone with that health care delivery, but at least this bit of the film did get me thinking a lot. We never see those ambulances at work until that ending so I suspect the implication is that there is "more than enough medicine to go around", figuratively speaking, but that the rich was just hoarding it all for themselves in reservation for the possibility of their own ailments.
Another strong theme in this film was desperation. Matt Damon's character faces three levels of desperation: physical (after being exposed to fatal dose of radiation), emotional (after failing to be able to reach Elysium after dreaming of being there for so long) and social (the system doesn't let him get to Elysium in a fair, legal way, but he both wants and needs to).
The physical desperation shatters his ethics, and switches on his survival instinct. He was on parole for theft in the past, but he has been trying to change his ways. But once he knows he was destined to die in 5 days he no longer cares and focuses on any and all means necessary to make it to Elysium to use the Med-Pods.
The emotional desperation almost destroys his relationship with Frey, his kind-of sort-of childhood sweetheart. His inability to keep the promise to bring Frey to Elysium makes him abandon her at a point, and if it weren't for the bad guys kidnapping them onto the space shuttle, they may never be able to reconcile.
The social desperation is expressed more universally, through the other poor people on Earth. How they use illegal vessels to enter Elysium in hopes to use their Med-Pods (I think) is a very real effect of desperation. They do not care that they aren't welcome; they just really want or need to be there. This is almost analogous to the asylum seeker boats entering Australia, except we have 'processing centers' in between so we don't simply deport them back to their home countries.
So I guess we're at least a little bit better than Elysium! Just a little though. I also kind of love how Matt Damon's character is dumb. He is not a brilliant scientist, and he isn't a role model. He wasn't trying to save the world, even at the end of the film. He did seek redemption before dying, but only for Frey. Up until he realized the harm he's caused Frey and her daughter, he really was just trying to save himself, and he never cared about the data heist itself or got involved with the politics on Elysium. He is almost like the Forrest Gump of Sci-Fi, minus the monologues. Now all the good stuff about it aside, there is one thing that did leave me wanting more.
There are many things at stake in this film, and few of them gets resolved in a satisfactory manner. At least half a dozen subplots are introduced, mostly to do with Elysium itself, but all of them are glossed over to keep the focus on Matt Damon's character.
The biggest of these underdeveloped subplots, I would argue is the attempted coup by Jodie Foster's character Secretary of Defence Jessica Delacourt...which I'll just refer to as Foster anyway. During a meeting between Foster and the president of Elysium, she establishes herself as a hardened commander who is not afraid to kill intruders to protect the sovereignty and peace of the habitat, and she hints that she has a past that involved intrusion by people from Earth harming her family's well-being when she questions whether the president has what it takes to preserve the way of life for Elysians.
Ironically we know nothing about the president except he has more conservative views on how to govern, most of his character is dictated through Foster's description of his inefficacy in office. Foster was so convinced that the current government is too timid and 'politically correct' that she plans a coup.
With the support of their main Defence contractor, she plans to hack and reset the system to recognize her as the new president, overthrowing the current administration. While her plans are being thwarted indirectly by Matt Damon, she is suddenly killed off by her own agent, and when she is locked in the storage room with Frey, she refuses to be treated by her, and ends up dying.
I interpreted her ending to be one where she has a serious history with people from Earth that caused her to be so wary of them and even ready to instigate a war to be rid of them once and for all. This means that she died stubbornly believing she is part of the superior class, not willing to be in debt to an Earthling.
Unfortunately we never really know her back-story so it's hard to appreciate her malice and stubbornness. Perhaps they did explore her character a bit more in an extended cut, though I guess she won't be as villainy then. But outside of nitpicks, that's the only real issue I had with the film. It is a big one, but doesn't completely destroy the film. It's worth a view even if it's just to experience another vision of a futuristic present.