To the Elysian plain…where life is easiest for men. No snow is there, nor heavy storm, nor ever rain, but ever does Ocean send up blasts of the shrill-blowing West Wind that they may give cooling to men.
— Homer, Odyssey (4.560-565)
Without realising it, my weekend movie marathon with N have an interesting connecting thread, greek mythology adaptation and greek inspired title. Elysium is a sophomore feature film by South African-Canadian writer-director, Neill Blomkamp. Elysium or Elysian Fields (Ἠλύσιον πεδίον, Ēlýsion pedíon) are a concept of heaven or paradise, a place or state of perfect happiness in the afterlife. In this science fiction, action thriller, dystopian tale set in 2154, Elysium is a name of a luxurious, torus space station, hovering above earth, where only the top1% of earth population can spend their lives in glorious lushness, while the rest rot away in densely densely polluted and tensely over-populated earth.
On decaying Earth we met Max da Costa (Matt Damon), an orphaned boy living in slum Los Angeles, with his childhood friend Frey (Alice Braga). Max was a reformed car thief turn Armadyne corp. factory worker become the victim of a lethal workplace accident, leaving him 5 days to live. Aided by his friend Julio (Diego Luna), he took a dangerous mission from the notorious hacker/smuggler called Spider (Wagner Moura), in return he’d be able to go to Elysium to cure himself in one of their Medical Pods. In Elysium, Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) a hard line secretary of defense are hatching a devious plan to enforce anti-immigration plan to ensure the sustainability of Elysium, including by employing the psychotic agent, Kruger (Sharlto Copley) to do her bidding.
More and more science fiction nowadays tends to portray dystopian Earth as an aftermath of our own misdeeds rather than relying on alien invasions as a plot device. Elysium join the like of In Time, Gattacca, Total Recall, creating major social changes to criticize the current social structures and construct a post-apocalyptic earth that are truly believable and not really far fetched. Rather than futuristic, Elysium provides us of how our current state of the world could be in a believable exaggeration. Delivering issues such as illegal immigrations, population bomb, universal health care, power abuse, war provocation, workspace safety and physical labor, race and social disparity, all are accessible and are issues that most people from all over the globe should be familiar with. Blomkamp’s earth landscape are dirt poor looking slum, acres of garbage over acres of buildings (he actually shot the film in mexico slum area to add a level of authenticity of the slum Los Angeles. ); a stark contrast to the green lushness of Elysium, where everyone live in a beautiful houses, with robots to cater to their every whim, and a perfectly manicured lawn.
Above: Dystopian Los Angeles versus Utopian Elysium. Picture Courtesy of TriStar Picture (from wired).
Elysium first and foremost is an action film. So you can expect a great sequences of action that are powerful and quick paced. There were times when i thought the action sequence was slightly too fast and gory that i just don’t know what’s happening on screen. But most people probably would enjoyed it, despite being a little bloody (which i don’t care for). Matt Damon, lead the film and become one of the core strength by delivering a heartfelt performance, being the third in line does not mean he can not deliver a great performance. Sharlto Copley psychotic character seems too erratic in comparison, i don’t think i fully understand his motives and objectives, i don’t think i even understand if he love or hate Elysium. Jodie Foster as the strong hand government sounded ridiculous at times, her voice sounded dubbed or something at some scenes of the film, she definitely leave an impression but not a good one in my book.
While i enjoyed little details (such as the grafitti’d robot parole officer, what a mockery!) and the overall concept design of the film. I am aware of the urgency of the social commentary the film is trying to deliver too. But as a film, the film weakness lies on the script. I do not get the importance of Frey because there were a disjointedness between childhood Max to adult Max, despite the lesson delivered by the Nun at the end of the movie (‘never forget where you came from’). The most consistent character is probably Jodie Foster’s Delacourt, as the film supposed main antagonist. At the very end, i like the decision that the main character take, a nod to utilitarianism and the centuries-old idea of sacrifice for the greater good.
Above: Concept design and realised landscape of Elysium. Courtesy of TriStar Pictures.
Visual and design concept are always a powerful device to transfer the idea of the imagined world such as Elysium. Blomkamp created a graphic novel as a visual and concept reference to capture the essence of the universe. Through the help of Syd Mead, a set designer for the film, whose works you probably have witnessed in Aliens, TRON, and Blade Runner. Mead’s concept for Torus actually lifted from a NASA design study in 1975, a research project for space settlements. So yes, the Torus design is actually plausible. This of course contributes to the groundedness of the design. Not everything becomes sleek and cold futuristic design object, you can still relate to the residential and the wardrobe design of the film. The Elysium resident wore clothes that are still familiar to our world nowadays, with slightly altered fabrics and styling. Jodie Foster character is a stand out in her timeless and sharp suits perfectly tailored by Giorgio Armani. For those of you who are fascinated by the concept design of Elysium world, you can purchase the book Elysium: The Art of the Film to satisfy your curiosity :)
An enjoyable action flick with an urgent social message to deliver, Elysium is packed with a sensible visual design with a concept that made the world of Elysium to be more accessible by the audience. Even with the confusing script, Damon deliver a great performance, and deliver high-octane action sequence to thrill. Give it a chance, maybe you’ll ended up enjoying it! I definitely did.
GENRE Action, Drama, Sci-Fi, Thriller
DIRECTOR Neil Blomkamp | PRODUCER Neil Blomkamp, Bill Block, Simon Kinberg | WRITER Neil Blomkamp | MUSIC Ryan Amon | CINEMATOGRAPHER Trent Opaloch | EDITOR Julian Clarke, Lee Smith | STUDIO Alphacore, Media Rights Capital, QED International | DISTRIBUTOR TriStar Pictures | COUNTRY United States | RELEASE DATE August 9, 2013, August 21, 2013 (Indonesia) | BUDGET US$ 115 Million | RUNNING TIME 109 Minutes| RATING R for strong bloody violence and language throughout
STARRING Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley, Alice Braga, Diego Luna, Wagner Moura, William Fichtner.
Concept design of the exoskeleton frame by Aaron Beck the concept designer of the film.