District 9

Don’t see it if you can possibly avoid it.

… is being marketed as a science fiction film with a political message.

Sort of.   In functional terms it’s a high-tech shoot-’em-up action-adventure flick crossed with a horror flick.  Nice lead performance by Sharlto Copley as a low-grade Eichmann; everything else was mere formula, and to my eyes not very heartfelt formula at that.

The story is, though far from plausible either techically or organizationally, well enough told to remain engaging.  The politics, not so much.

Peter Jackson really, really wants us to know that multinational companies with private armies aren’t nice.  Noted.  I’m glad he told me – or rather, pounded the message into my head with a hammer for two hours – or I might have confused Blackwater with the Red Cross.   And of course I’d never thought before about the problem of corporate and governmental interests using their power to distort mass-media coverage.

While introducing aliens is always a good way to critique intra-homo sapiens divisions, if I were Nigerian I’d regard the depiction of Nigerians in the film as pretty blatantly xenophobic.    Black South Africans and Afrikaaners are shown as ignorant and bigoted (blacks somewhat more than Afrikaaners); the English South Africans, especially the two “experts” whose TV interviews act as the Chorus, tend to be much more intelligent and, in some cases, thoughtful, though some of the corporate Bad Guys are also English South Africans.

This one is up with Angel Heart and Aguirre, the Wrath of God on my list of films I would pay good money to be able to forget.

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

7 thoughts on “District 9”

  1. Well, that's your opinion, but I disagree. Please, name a film that more realistically portrays the likely human response to a non-invasive alien presence?

  2. We thought it was an interesting allegory on how the human race treats the weak.

    The stuff about mercs was formulaic and there were other things that weren't well done, but we had a good conversation afterward, which is a good sign.

  3. From reading interviews with Neil Blomkamp, the director of the film, it doesn't

    sound as as though Peter Jackson (listed as producer) had much to do with the

    content: my understanding is that Blomkamp was working with Jackson on another

    project, and when that fell through, Jackson pretty much set him up and told him

    to make whatever movie he wanted – and apparently "District 9" expands on ideas

    in an earlier short movie made by Blomkamp. So if you want to direct praise or

    blame, Blomkamp is probably the appropriate target.

    I saw the movie myself, and found it flawed but entertaining. More of an action/

    thriller than a substantive drama, but it rattles along at a quick enough pace

    to jump the plot holes (if those alien weapons are so great, how come the aliens

    don't use them to bust out of the ghetto ?) but Copley's performance as a

    poor schlub whose world is turned upside down and inside out is compelling,

    and the way the CGI are integrated with the ugly dirty live action is neat

    (especially on the relatively low budget).

    The portrayal of the Nigerian gangsters does seem un-PC. I haven't seen that

    issue addressed head-on by Blomkamp, but in one interview he did say that

    the practice of cannibalism to heal disease and gain powers is really

    happening. I guess Johannesburg isn't Hollywood, and that different

    origin gives the movie some freshness but also – from a UK/USA perspective –

    some rough edges.

  4. Somebody pointed out that the Nigerian gangsters and the (whatsitsname) corporation were deliberate parallels. The gangsters were going to eat the protagonist's arm for power; the corporation was going to chop him up for power.

  5. "Somebody pointed out that the Nigerian gangsters and the (whatsitsname) corporation were deliberate parallels"

    Yes, I think Blomkamp himself has discussed that: two groups with the same goal –

    getting the powers of the aliens for themselves – but different methods,

    scientific analysis vs witch-doctors and cannibalism. But the portrayal

    of both groups is far over the top – outside Copley's performance, there

    aren't really any shades of gray. It's pretty easy to pick the movie apart

    and find the flaws and identify the influences: but that misses the point

    of a visceral fast-paced entertainment that keeps you on the edge of your

    seat for 90 minutes.

    I agree about "Angel Heart", a pointlessly nasty movie. Have only seen the

    last half-hour or so of "Aguirre, Wrath of God", but that seems to have

    a certain grandeur ?

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