Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Elysium - Okay, but then what?

We saw Elysium at the cinema on Monday evening. The movie was mentioned in an earlier post, HERE. I'll try not to include too many spoilers, but without a few I can't say what I want to say, so if a passing reader intends to see the movie, do beware of what follows.

I didn't hate the film, but didn't love it either. Elysium had good ideas, not new - but then, what is? The film was written, co-produced and directed by Neill Blomkamp and stars Matt Damon and Jodie Foster.

The storyline, used before in a variety of ways in novels and in movies, in this instance is delivered with all the visual technological wonders now available. This isn't always an advantage, it can simply encourage producers and directors to over-egg the pudding, which is basically what happened in Elysium. The film was designed to play to the action and fight-loving blockbuster-loving filmgoers, not the quieter, more curious among us.

Squandered opportunity - that's what Elysium and its embedded allegory is.

To be fair, the subject matter, dealt with in any detail, with time for proper background and character development, with dialogue showing more depth than yer average graphic novel, would be more suitable material for a TV mini-series of some three or four 2-hour episodes. The movie had just less than 2 hours to tell its tale, so a lot had to be left to the imagination, and several gaping plot-holes had to be left, in the hope that the mayhem of fight sequences will mean that audiences' brains will become numb enough not to notice.

Without the overlong fight scenes, the last one had me looking at my watch, just wishing and willing it to end, perhaps younger filmgoers would not even bother to see Elysium, and they'd miss the allegorical warning embedded in it. As husband pointed out, perhaps this way a little of the allegory's message will stick, even overlaid as it was by all the mayhem. I hope so, but doubt it.

As an allegorical fable or parable set in Los Angeles in 2154, a tale about the haves and have-nots, it could be seen both as a mirror of what we now term the 1% versus The Rest of Us in the USA and elsewhere, or using a wider lens, the third world versus the developed world. Both views work equally well.

Matt Damon plays Max Da Costa, who is, to carry on the Greek mythology motif from the space station's name, a 22nd century Hercules figure. He's confronted by an Herculean task, initially via the motivation to save his own life after suffering massive radiation poisoning. He is aided by a techno-heavy exoskeleton suit and brain assistance (sorry if those terms aren't the correct ones!) He needs to reach the idyll that is space station Elysium, a living environment for the uber-weathy, where as part of its pseudo idyll, crime, poverty and all other nasties simply do not exist. Earth has become a devastated shell: hot, over-populated, disease-ridden, its sorry inhabitants used as slaves to supply the needs of Elysium, under the inhuman and inhumane control of robot police. On Elysium there are magical-seeming re-atomising health care pods in every home. These can heal any injury, ailment, disease in a few seconds - even a guy with his face blown off (a particularly nasty scene!)

What we aren't told, and what those curious enough among us are left wondering, is : what's going on in the rest of the USA - not to mention the rest of the world? Modern sci-fi movies often have an irritating habit of never mentioning this point, putting focus on....well it's often LA or New York or Washington....What was going on in Oklahoma and Texas and Iowa for instance (apart from people steadily being fried to a crisp?) What was happening in India, London, China, Sweden? What exactly went on in the everyday life of Elysium? Most of what we were shown involved the politcal side of the space station environment: keeping out illegals travelling from Earth in filthy battered space vehicles, trying desperately to access the health care pods to heal themselves or their children.

Jodie Foster plays an eerily Margaret Thatcher-like (but better looking) high-ranking Elysian government minister, Jessica Delacourt. She had a plan for a coup to take down the rather softer-hearted president of Elysium. She intends to use some unbelievable transfer of computer code - I never did get my head around this premise, even suspending what was left of my belief/disbelief. The unlikely method of its illegal transfer to Matt Damon's brain boggled mine a bridge or two too far.

But after it all, and after what was supposed to be a win-win for the Earth people - then what? Biggest sigh of all! What was achieved, really? The people of Earth were, in one unbelievable transfer of data, given citizenship of Elysium and the right to access the health repairing pods. How could that benefit the failing environment of planet Earth? Even more population to feed and access diminished water sources? We see some of the health repair pods being sent to Earth - or to LA, anyway. What was going on elsewhere?

Would the people on Earth, already dreadfully brutalised by the way of life they'd been forced into for decades, or even centuries, we are not told for how long - would they play nice with the expensive high-tech health repair pods? What about the brutal robot police force on Earth? Had they been re-programmed? Would the working environments on a devastated Earth magically be re-tooled, re-invigorated with union strength to oppose inhuman requirements of risking one's life via radiation poisoning in the way Max was forced to do, with no recourse?

More questions than answers!

I do not want to see a sequel, that could only prove to be even more depressing, but numerous questions do still hang over Elysium.


mike said...

Well, Twilight, it sounds like an on-going saga. You say it's an allegory (paradigm) of extant concerns in our real life.

Will the expensive healing pods be continued? No...Obamacare (Delacourtcare?) needs a vast re-work. Failing environment, lack of fresh water, and diminished food supplies for an increasing population won't abate until big business changes their course (the 1% aka occupants of Elysium). The brutal robot police (fueled with drones, NSA, Patriot Act) won't subside until the population insists on re-gaining their constitutional rights (in the USA) and other countries follow the lead for freedom and democracy and reclaim their right to privacy. Just fill-in the blanks with whatever is happening right now...LOL.

My astrology software doesn't compute the year 2154. There is a 138 year Uranus-Pluto synodic cycle, which puts 2154 in the cross-hairs. A quinky-dink?

Twilight, you seem to enjoy least this blog. You've stated your addiction to dystopic sci-fi. You might be very good at the major league of sci-fi book authors!

Twilight said...

mike ~ I think the writers did have a kind of allegory in mind. Neill Blomkamp's earlier film "District 9" carried a message about segregation (and other dangers), so this message thing seems to be his signature.
It's a good signature, we need more of this in spite of the over-egged action drawback - it's a way to sugar the pill for those who would otherwise not even think on these things. ;-)

Those are some very apt comparisons with what's going on today, mike!

There's a 6000 year ephemeris at
I looked up 2154 and there's a Pluto-Uranus opposition with the planets in Sag and Gem, in the 20s degrees. Not sure if this link will take you to the pdf but here goes:

Yes, I do enjoy scribbling the blog - keeps me off the streets ya know. ;-) When it comes to writing pure fiction I have difficulty, really needed some training in creative writing I guess. I did try my hand at a short story once, some years ago, if you haven't come across it, it's available on an old blog of mine "Starting From Nothing".
Story title "Regions of the Homewind". The way I got around my difficulties was to tell the story via communications between characters.

Here's the blog URL in case you've not stumbled upon it before:

Twilight said...

mike ~ speaking of "quinky-dinks", I'd been sorting out an Omar Khayyam quote for inclusion in a future posting, then went to clear spam/awaiting moderation comments, if any, and found one from a PaulE (commenting to you) about....guess?
The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám.

Don't know whether you get e-mail notification of comments to posts where you've commented - if not this is the relevant post:

What was it you called these - cosmic collisions? :-)

mike (again) said...

No, I don't receive notifications...thanks for making me aware of PaulE's comment. I responded.

Yes...cosmic collisions! I learned from this exercise, too. I looked-up PaulE's Penguin book and read various comments about the Avery translation. Most fascinating...I hadn't been aware that Khayyam was more pragmatic and in mild defiance of his country's Muslim faith...believing more in the material than the spiritual end-point. I'll have to investigate this further and draw my own conclusions, but difficult without knowing old Persian and not dependent on translations.

The three of us were drawn into the Omar vortex today!

mike - starting from nothing said...

Twilight, I tried to leave a comment on your "Starting from Nothing", but it requires signing-in to Google, which I am loathe to perform.

I'll post my comment here (sorry for making it so publicly current!):

Twilight, I very much enjoyed your short story! I'll make some suggestions, but with the predication that I'm not a writer and certainly no expert, particularly with sci-fi.

If you view the missives to and from Rethiko as an outline (perhaps a method of starting or ending chapters and expand, expand, expand on the adventures of Druid and Cheroka between the missives.

I had many questions:
Why-what led Druid and Cheroka to be "deceptive" sleuths? How did they by-pass detection, since intuition and psychic ability was heightened on Alterion? Did the Great Chiefs of Arbitration know (via psychic abilities) that the knowledge of Earth would be eventually exposed? Druid and Cheroka's Earth adventure are to be made public knowledge by Rethiko for future application...what did Rethiko perceive by that remark? Did nowledge that was hidden, then made public via this Earth adventure have a future effect on Alterion? On Earth?

Was astrology practiced on Alterion and what were the influences? Did those influences affect Druid and Cheroka to become explorers? Did Druid and Cheroka succumb to the Earth's solar system's astrological influence? Is that why Cheroka felt passion? Is the lack of passion and violence on Alterion due to no Mars and Venus, hence it was easier to denigrate those feelings on Alterion more than intellectually removing it from their society by education?

Cheroka seems to be the more influenced by Earth's may be beneficial if she was the primary speaker or view-point. What led her to stay with Roul? Why would she mate knowing it could end her life?

Were Druid and Cheroka able to preconceive their adventures and outcomes? You allude that these two can communicate this telepathic? Do they have this same ability with the Earthlings (it doesn't seem so)?

Both Druid and Cheroka seem to sense a purpose for their travel to's presented more as an adventure to discover their past. Is Cheroka's duty to interbreed and give genetic diversity? Druid leaves us with a sense of duty toward helping the Earthlings...what can he provide? It seems Earthlings are well on their way to survive without his intervention. Both Druid and Cheroka are able to gain seeds (with instructions) and books from the magic this their primary gift to Earth (turning the Earth survivors from hunter-gatherers to agricultural) and provide proof of their Earth ancestors?

The Earthlings seem to be slowly recuperating from the devastation. Food doesn't seem to be an issue, as the Earthlings provide Druid and Cheroka with food along the way. They have their own medicine when they heal Cheroka, which is something Druid can't seem to do with his "store". Do the Earthlings have knowledge to give Alterion?

Please don't be offended by my non-requested input, Twilight! It's always easy to be a critic. I do believe that you are a writer and that you should go for's never too late, but, like me, our time is running-out. You are well-read, particularly of the dystopian sci-fi genre. Apply the same qualities in story telling that you enjoy.

Twilight said...

mike ~~ Part #1
Oh! Well, thank you kindly for taking the time to read my scribbles and then to comment so fully on them - I'm very grateful!

(Answers in two bites, Blogger wouldn't accept one long piece as comment.)

I'll try to respond to the points you've raised. It's 6 or 7 years, at least, since I first imagined and wrote the tale, so exactly what I had in mind then will have fogged over quite a bit - but here goes:

Over the years, since 2006, I began to see the story, as it appears on the blog, as more of an outline for a more detailed novel - I also thought it might make a decent graphic novel, tried to talk the husband into doing some graphics as an experiment, but of no avail ;-)

I'll try to take your comment para by para - excuse me if I inadvertently omit anything though:

Re the secrecy about Earth being the original home of inhabitants of Alterion - I had in mind that
events during the last years on Earth had been so dire, and the way humanity had disintegrated had to have been so terrible, that to make it common knowledge would have possibly been a danger - letting the people know what they had the potentiality to become. Or perhaps it was also a means of control when the new environment on the new planet home was very new - the tradition had been continued, possibly without due consideration. The intention had been to make a completely new start.

The telepathic abilities - I didn't explore that in detail, but added it as a thought of something which might possibly fill the gap left by lack of high emotion and violence......So how the pair kept their original record searches secret - I guess there were ways of blocking thought transference also ? Working in "safe mode" ?

The fact that the pair had discovered that Earth has survived and re-invigorated in intervening centuries led Rethiko to feel confident about revealing formerly secret stuff to Alterion at the end of the tale. What effect that would have on Alterion, and whether there is anything they can learn from Earth is something I hadn't gotten around to considering, to be honest. I suspect that the best they could learn from the knowledge they gained was how NOT to develop!

Twilight said...

Part #2
I threw in a little hint of astrology with the idea that I might publish the story chapter by chapter on my blog - then decided against doing that. So really the astrology mentioned in the story could have been left out. It's another interesting sidelight though, which could also have been enlarged upon - re Venus/Mars, yes. I tried to envisage how early man would have looked on astrology, and used a version of the stone circles which have been found, as used by early Native Americans (I think).

Whether the female of the pair succumbed more strongly to Earth's different astro-atmosphere - I guess so, though I didn't make much of that point did I ? :-) Emotional highs had been gradually bred out on Alterion, so perhaps part of her ancient DNA long dormant suddenly was awakened. She mated with Raoul under the new influence of an emotional high, without realising the outcome - or having any background knowledge to assist her. Rather like an adolescent innocently experimenting and finding herself preggers.

I think the telepathy is only between the two voyagers, not involving Earth people. It's something Alterion people have had to learn - Earth people might be capable of learning it too - in time.

I did have a feeling that there was an underlying feeling of duty and purpose in their voyage of discovery. Perhaps along the lines of nature seeking balance, removing loose ends.

Earth's newly primitive inhabitants could perhaps have survived without intervention, but their fear of exploration was holding them back. Druid and Cheroka showed them the way, and discovered what Earth's old inhabitants had left for them. The food sources they already had wouldn't have been sufficient as population grew - I suppose that's what I was thinking. Earth medicine was akin to Native American or early herbal medicine - they were discovering what would help certain ailments in much the same way early humans did. Druid's kit probably had a more sophisticated version of the same thing....?

Druid, in particular felt he had a duty and a message. I even had a feeling that he might be the mirror of a prophet or a new Christ figure - but didn't investigate that in detail - it was at the back of my mind when I wrote that he was headed to the east, if I remember correctly.

If I've forgotten to answer anything, do give me a nudge!

Twilight said...

mike - Re the Omar Khayyam comment on an old post - I hope PaulE returns to see your reply. I've left another comment there too. :-)

mike (again) said...

Well, Twilight, I certainly hope you go forward with have the ability, I'm sure. Sorry, but I didn't realize that you were presenting an outline...I should have known. I'm delighted you took the time to answer my questions...I became intrigued reading your story and my imagination started to fill-in the blanks. I hope you continue...get busy and GO, girl!

Twilight said...

mike ~ I didn't write it originally as an outline, but that's how it struck me some time later. I basically wrote it "off the top of my head" without giving it a great deal of thought. Not sure I could go back to it now and expand it.....I'll think on it though.

Twilight said...

mike - Forgot to say, too - many thanks for your kind remarks. :-)

LB said...

Hi Twilight - My husband and I saw Elysium a few days ago, and in spite of the movies flaws, I loved it and my husband liked it. Adding, I also loved "District 9", and though from a different director, the more recent "Cloud Atlas", which was more about personal responsibility and connection.

What I appreciated most about Elysium was the movie's obvious message about the disparity between the world's haves and have-nots, especially when it comes to healthcare. It struck a chord with me simply because it rang so true and wasn't muddied up by complex intellectual or artistic subtleties. When Matt Damon's character is told by his work supervisor to perform a particularly dangerous job (without any safeguards in place) or *else* - his character understands his place in the world well enough to know that while he's easily replaceable (the company can always find another worker), for him, finding another job won't be nearly so easy, which makes his choice relatively simple. If he's injured or dies (or his spirit is crushed), oh well - he's not one of the chosen few.

Those of us who've been similarly dehumanized by our employers or healthcare providers (not all of them corporate, I might add) can relate because we know it's the way our world works. Not only that, it's the way humans work, most of us choosing the path of least resistance in a dog-eat-dog world. We come to understand how little value we have and that knowledge shapes the choices we make in order to survive and fit in. For many of us, similar scenarios get played out everyday - with our employers, landlords, peer-groups, governments and within our healthcare system. In my volunteer work, I see it all the time.

Recently, I began privately seeing a lovely elderly woman (low-income), whose symptoms and physical deterioration are alarming - almost as alarming as the dismissive, apathetic treatment she's received from those within our medical system. Any reasonable person, after seeing her and hearing her story would be startled by the lack of adequate medical attention and testing she's received. And yet, this is the way it is for many of us.

As far as the "what then", I can only continue to do my part.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Hi! I'm glad the movie's out there, with its message loud and clear for those who wish to hear it - yes, sure. It's neither as bad nor as good as it could have been - which can be said for most films these days.

At least, when the message is wrapped up in sci-fi, the film gets past the corporate guard dogs. Whereas if a film maker tried to make a film with a good storyline but straight-on about the atrocious health care situation in the USA, I'd bet that it wouldn't get the backing it would need for the right amount of publicity and media time to make it successful - and if it were made at all it'd be shown only in those small arty cinemas some towns are lucky enough to have.

You seem to be doing your part in admirable fashion if I may say so, LB! :-)

LB said...

Hi Twilight - Agreed about how Science Fiction or even Fantasy genres provide less threatening vehicles. The action sequences may lure in a few more movie-goers, so at least the *potential* is there. People will either get it or they won't.

At this point, I put very little faith in some widespread social/political revolution solving the world's problems. The most meaningful changes will only come about when we stop waiting for some external solution/guidance and instead begin to change the way we think and act as individuals. It's challenging but worthwhile whenever art does more than just entertain us.:)

Thanks for the vote of confidence Twilight, but I don't know that what I'm doing is so admirable - like most people, I could easily do more without sacrificing anything essential to my well-being.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Yes - too many and various are the problems, it boggles the mind, and we could all do more - if we only knew what!

In the past change only followed when enough people got angry enough to do something together. A good example is in Friday's post about Peterloo, one closer to home in the USA - the civil rights marches and disturbances. there are lots of other examples too. People die and are injured, but something changes. There's always a cost, sadly.

I'm not advocating violence though, simply noting what it is that has brought about change in the past. :-/

LB said...

In theory, the idea of people united in serving a cause greater than themselves is wonderful - great things can be (and have been) accomplished.

Unfortunately, the motives and methods of the collective too often are myopic and self-serving, which is why I continue to believe meaningful change will require a greater degree of personal responsibility, discernment, and mindfulness. It takes a combination of self-awareness, self-restraint and effort . . . all we have to do is look around us for opportunities; we miss them searching for something bigger, shinier and more glamorous to attach ourselves to.

It's human nature to want to oversimplify complex situations(often times by scapegoating) or conversely, to overcomplicate (or ignore) simple moral and ethical choices. It's easy to see what we want to believe, whether or not it's true - easier still when everyone around us believes the same thing.

Humans want to fit in and are therefore easily led and easily manipulated. Group-think is scary, especially when the group's anger blinds it to its own hypocrisy.

Twilight said...

LB ~ Human nature is both our enemy and our only hope. My hope, and belief, is that balance prevails, always, it's nature's way - though sometimes it seems to be taking too long - sometimes it is actually taking too long. How that balance happens might sometimes be under our control, sometimes not.
It's easy to see it playing out in history in all kinds of ways.

None of which means that we're not supposed to help things along, we just have to trust that what we (the majority of us) feel inclined towards at any time is what nature intends.

Not sure if that's any sense - it's late and I've just watched episodes of Breaking Bad, Newsroom, and House of Cards (USA) in succession - so probably brain boggled. ;-)