I hate it when I only have five days to live. Don’t you?
The intrigue of the film Elysium starts with its name. Elysium was a concept of afterlife developed by the Greeks. It was a realm separate from the realm of Hades, a paradise of paradises. Homer described it as a realm devoid of any tumultuous weather, but had a constant wind to cool the inhabitants. In other words, Elysium was the Greek version of Heaven. From that title, you would assume the movie is Utopian in nature.
You would be wrong.
When things started taking a turn for the worst on Earth, the richest on the planet left. They do not go to a terraformed, but instead go to a place just outside of Earth’s atmosphere that looks suspiciously like Jim Hawkins’ crescent-shaped home planet in Treasure Planet. Meanwhile, the poor are left on Earth to get poorer while robotic police enforce the law.
That’s the setting. The rest of the story primarily revolves around Max and Frey, two childhood friends. Fast forward to the present, Year 2154. Frey is a nurse with a young daughter. Max is a convicted felon on parole. Funny how things turn out, isn’t it?
When they were kids, Max had promised to take them both to Elysium. That’s a promise that he never forgot; we see a tattoo on him at one point that relates to the promise he made as a kid. He still tries to pursue her romantically, an endeavor that soon becomes futile. Not because she refuses him, but because, well, he doesn’t really have the time.
Seriously, he doesn’t. He only has five days.
You see, Max had an accident at work. He was exposed to a severe amount of radiation, and as a result, he only has five days to live. With subpar medical care on Earth, his only hope is to get up to Elysium, where the medical advancements are superb. Essentially, they can heal anything. I’m pretty sure they could cure zombies. However, Elysium is a closed society. All who try to enter are shot down, and those who make it are arrested and deported.
Oh and by the way, the “illegal” Earthlings speak Spanish and the Elysium citizens speak French. Are you getting a feel for the worldview yet?
Meanwhile, on Elysium, there’s Jessica Delacourt, the Secretary of Defense. She specializes and even enjoys blowing illegals out of the sky, and even has a little henchman, Kruger, on Earth to help her out. She’s so engrossed in her job that she sees the President’s queasiness at her radical tactics as weakness. Her excuse? The lives of her children. Because every illegal must be a gang lord and drug dealer, right?
So Max goes to Spider, who is in charge of transporting the illegals to Elysium. He’s a kind-of-gang-lord kind-of-good-guy. His character development throughout the film is actually very interesting. Our first introduction to him presents him as a very calloused and selfish individual, but throughout the film he becomes less so. He becomes very cooperative when he realizes that Max really is dying. So he makes a deal. Download the information from important dudes head, he gets a free ride to Elysium. Thus begins the primary conflict of the movie. He dons a “cyborg suit” that is connected to his nervous system, which allows him to maintain physical prowess during his last days.
The primary antagonist is Kruger, a villain that becomes more and more evil as the film progresses. He is a chaotic sort of evil, but in a way that is even more chilling than the psychopathic tendencies of The Joker or The Book of Eli’s power-hungry Carnegie. Whereas many villains simply use violence as a means to their end, Kruger thrives on the suffering of others. While The Joker wants to create chaos and death is part of that goal, Kruger tweaks his plan to make room for death. Whereas Carnegie is willing to kill to get the book, Kruger is okay with completing his mission, so long as he gets to kill.
The other characters, however, develop in a different direction. Max is very selfish in the beginning of the film. He keeps repeating “I don’t wanna die,” and is willing to do whatever he has to, moral or not, to get to Elysium. When he learns that Frey’s daughter is in the final stages of Leukemia, however, that begins to change. His true transformation isn’t apparent until the very end, but he becomes more sacrificial, placing Frey and his daughter above himself. This is especially powerful because in this “love story,” there is no marriage; there is no confession of love; there is not even a kiss. Yet a man’s love for his woman has never been more obvious. His actions speak for themselves. That’s an aspect that has long been missing from film. Its presence in this film is one of the reasons that I say the best love stories are the ones which are not the primary focus of a film.
The character development, however, is not the primary focus.
I already mentioned the Spanish-speaking illegals. Adding to the obvious nature of the film’s message is the fact that the illegals need a citizen I.D. tattooed on their arm. Basically, it’s the 22nd century version of a social security card. Max is one of the few Earth inhabitants that have a job and the working conditions are abysmal. Most of Earth’s inhabitants are Hispanic (as in all of them except for Max. Because, ya know, it’d be kind of hard for Matt Damon to suddenly be Hispanic).
Put simply, the film’s primary message is about immigration reform and social class. That issue is more political than theological or spiritual, but I do think it brings up an important point that Christians often overlook. NOT EVERY MEXICAN IS A HITMAN OR DRUG LORD. And assuming that, as some do, could not be more contrary to the Christian spirit.
I hear arguments like this all the time: they steal our jobs. They don’t pay taxes. They bring drugs into the country. Or not even about Mexicans; what about beggars? They’re only going to use the money for drugs and booze, right?
In sharp contrast to this, Jesus extended his hand to all. In Matthew 9, the Pharisees are upset with him for fraternizing with the tax collectors and sinners. Jesus frequently helped and healed beggars. In fact, the first healing in Acts (chapter 3) is done to a beggar. Jesus also wasn’t too concerned about his well-being (as we are about our jobs and our economy). As a matter of fact, the only time we ever see Jesus truly angry is when people are abusing His father’s house (John 2).
I’m not saying that Christians have to be in support of immigration reform. I am, however, saying that Christians cannot have an arrogant attitude that places them above immigrants, whether documented or not.
My verdict? It’s the most memorable film I’ve seen this year. However, I will advise you to not see it in theaters, and only rent it if you can watch it with ClearPlay or TV Guardian. While completely devoid of sexual content, the amount of language in the film is astounding. That’s not a good thing. Once that obstacle is overcome, however, it’s a film that will be hard to forget, and one I hope will become one of the cult classics of our generation.