Friday, 23 September 2011

District 9 - frighteningly familiar

I watched District 9 last night, and OMG does it pack a punch. It's a movie I wanted to see when it was released (2009) but never got around to it, so I recorded it a couple of weeks ago when it was aired on TV.

This South African film is set in Johannesburg 20 years after around a million alien asylum seekers arrived from a distant planet in a broken-down mothership (that has remained suspended gloriously above the city). The authorities decide it's time to forcibly relocate these aliens (derogatorily referred to as 'prawns') from the slum-ghetto known as District 9, which has been their home for the past two decades, to a specially built facility 200km distant.

It's partially presented as a documentary, incorporating comments from 'experts' and live-to-camera addresses from the man assigned to oversee the eviction -- Wikus van de Merwe. This helps establish the scenario and history, but as the film progresses the doco style fades away (more or less) as events play out.

This film explores some serious topics -- racism, treatment of asylum seekers, exploitation of the helpless, greed and capitalism -- and it does it amazingly well. These are issues that we confront every day, and in Australia particularly the subject of asylum seekers is hotly debated. My heart went straight out to these aliens who are treated as less than human, don't seem particularly violent, are clearly from a far more advanced civilisation, and just want to survive -- or in the case of one rescue his people from deplorable living conditions.

I also really appreciated the way my opinion of Wikus swung around. His treatment of and attitude to the 'prawns' at the beginning is despicable, but then he becomes the victim of a government/corporate conspiracy/genetic experiment and I found myself sympathising with him. My sentiments continued to swing back and forth until the very end of the film.

District 9 is really worth watching, but I didn't find it an easy film to experience. It's violent with lots of gunfire and things getting chopped up, plus the terrible way in which humans treat these aliens is quite confronting. Perhaps the doco style made it harder to distance myself from it. It's so well done, with fantastic performances and effects, that it didn't feel like science fiction at all to me -- it felt frighteningly familiar.

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