Neil Blomkamp :: South Africa :: 2009 : 1h50
The unlikely action hero Wikus works for a large international paramilitary organisation called the MNU. The company deals with the affairs of the almost 2 million aliens which were rescued from their stranded ship over Johannesburg, and grouped together in an area named District 9. After an uncomfortable status-quo of apartheid, Wikus is assigned the mission to move the aliens to a new district further out of town… and out of sight. The disorientated aliens are not wholly complying with the MNU’s wishes.
Amongst the things which go wrong during the eviction of the rundown township of district 9, Wikus is exposed to a unique alien matter which turns him into the most sought after man on earth. With the ruthless and the power hungry at the South African political helm, all means are deployed to hunt him down. There is but one hiding place he can think of: back to District 9.
This is not just science-fiction film. District 9 lets you into its world through its network of websites (see below). The film is presented as but part of the story you are thrown into through the websites, allowing you to live the film before actually going in. On the internet, you get to hear mock interviews with people on the streets criticising or supporting the aliens and the apartheid system. It is an amusing (if bitter) satire to surf through.
Once you get to the cinema, you will find the film both unconventional in its form as in its matter, despite having the general blockbuster structure. The aliens and the people are not scared of one another (although shockingly uninformed!), but find themselves in an abusive cohabitation. In normal human society, relations between different groups are usually determined by who controls either the economic means (capital) or the army – in other words, the wealthy dominate the poor or the stronger dominate the weaker. Politics can be a big part of the problem, or it can even out the propensity to abuse to create a more harmonious ensemble.
Here, the government is clearly part of the problem, hoping to maximise its power no matter the cost. When these two civilisations -alien and human- meet, the aliens objectively seem to have the upper hand: they have superior technology (read: weaponry), yet they find themselves oppressed. The aliens are not even particularly noble creatures either, making it all the more peculiar for them to be a civilisation armed to the teeth, flying far from home and be pacifist all at the same time. If they were that peaceful, surely they could have travelled without arms, as explorers? And also, why were they tr￼avelling with so many of them if they did not have the intention to settle down somewhere? On earth, they suffer under South African rule, and even within their limited scope for movement, they do not seem intent on making something of their lives (they must have been organised to get where they are). These story lapses matter because the film has the pretence of being true, offering a possible world as our own.
To get to that reality-tv approach, the film, as the websites, film the action in a messy and grainy way to give you the impression of being there. But as opposed to stringently sticking to a shoulder camera realism approach, the film sometimes lets you look at the action “on tv”, sometimes through “security cameras” and sometimes as if you are crouched at a distance looking in. This variation keeps the excitement in the film, without loosing the realism element – it is easy to stay in character with the film.
With so much emphasis on this story being potentially true, we are constantly reminded of the racial Apartheid law which ruled the country for so long. If we were to draw a parallel, then the government and its agents are accused of being (having been?) downright evil, blinded by a thirst for power. The human race comes off so badly in word and deed, that we can barely recognise ourselves. But that, is perhaps rather to our credit.