Saturday, August 15, 2009

District 9

Well, you’re probably not surprised, but I saw District 9 at midnight on Thursday. Hopefully, you’re at least a little impressed that I saw it even though I was at work at five that morning (hopefully, you’re impressed that I was at work at five that morning, period). Anyways, I saw it.

Let me list what I knew going in. It’s made by the guy who was going to make Halo because Peter Jackson saw some short he made about aliens in Johannesburg that I never bothered to see. Everyone who sees it loves it. Oh, and it’s about apartheid. I guess I also knew that it involved aliens in Johannesburg and I kind of assumed it was building upon the short film he’d made but that I had never seen.

So, yeah, I didn’t know much. I think I knew just the right amount. Actually, I probably didn’t need to know that everyone who sees it loves it. It would have been nice not to have known that, but then I probably wouldn’t have seen it at midnight, so...yeah.

Anyways, if you had decided to wait outside the theater at two in the morning to ask me if I liked it, I don’t think I would have said that I loved it. I would have said that other reviewers were raving a little bit too much because they miss having a movie like The Dark Knight to rave about this summer. That’s not to say I wouldn’t have said that I liked it. That it was really interesting. That I wanted to see it again. I mean, I would have recommended it. I just would have tried to explain to you that it was a little over-rated.

But, you didn’t wait outside. So, you’re getting my reaction now that I’ve had some time to contemplate it (and I’ve spent a lot of time contemplating it). And, well, yeah, I loved it. It’s not over-rated at all. You should never ask my opinion about those kinds of things at two in morning. So, um, good thing you didn't.

The more time that passes, the more I liked it. The more I want to see it again. The more I want to see another one. The more I...I don’t know...the more that I just want more. I start wondering, or hoping really, that maybe there was something after the credits that I missed because I was too tired to stick around to find out. I just want to see and contemplate and experience that universe again.

Let’s put it in simple terms. It’s a very, very good sci-fi movie. It’s also an incredibly angry movie. With more than a touch of sadness. It can’t help but remind me of Children of Men. Only it’s not about how a hopeless future takes away our will to be human. This movie believes that we don’t really have a will to be human at all. Given the opportunity to be inhuman, that’s what we’ll be.

There is no trust in this movie. There’s no trust in authority or corporations or humanity at all. There’s no trust in human decency. It’s sad.

But that’s only the first part of what I thought about. I thought about how the authorities were at least as barbaric as the Nigerian gangsters. I thought about one of the things a minor character said about the company. They didn’t even try to hide the things they were doing. I thought about how it was noted that this character was in prison for exposing the crimes of the company. I'm doubtful the company was punished for what it was doing.

I thought about how that company was ever even given the authority to police District 9. In my imagination, they won a bid to police it. They won this bid when it was known that they were the number two weapons manufacturer in the world. I assume they undercut everyone who wanted to actually improve or help the aliens, and no one bothered to question why.

I think about the company’s slogan to its military police. “A smile is cheaper than a bullet.” I think of how little smiling there was in this movie. I think of how often the military police were smiling while they were shooting.

I think about my own assumptions and distrust just while watching the movie. I think of how I felt when I first saw an alien take off a guys arm, for no apparent reason. How I felt when the humans simply killed it right there. They were putting an animal down. I agreed with them.

I think of how I felt when the main character burned down a shack full of the aliens’ eggs. He first shows the camera how to abort the eggs. We hear the scream of the young one inside as its life supply is cut off. Then they take a flame thrower to the rest of them. We can hear the screaming in the background as the main character explains to us that the popping sound is the eggs exploding from the heat. He laughs as he tells us its just like popping popcorn. I was horrified.

And then we’re introduced to the main alien character. He’s collecting a mysterious fluid and the only thing I’m thinking is wondering how he is planning to use it against us. Wondering if this is the stuff that will enable them to take over the planet, like they’ve secretly been hoping for the last twenty years. Looking back, I’m a little horrified with myself for that.

But, mostly, I think about the aliens. I know that Neill has done some interviews and stuff where he talks about how he envisions the backstory of the aliens. I skimmed a quick thing where he talks about a hive mind and the lack of a queen. I stopped reading at that point. The aliens have a rather different backstory in my mind. Of course, I have to admit that he gets final say. But, within the narrative of the movie, everyone can give the aliens their own history. Because, no one really knows about the aliens.

Alright, from here on out, don’t read this if you haven’t seen the movie. Seriously. Just go see the movie. You’ll going to regret reading this if you don’t. I don’t care if you’ve already had someone describe every single thing that happened in the movie in excruciating detail. Go see the movie. We clear? Good.

So, one of the big questions to me throughout the movie, is why the aliens allow this happen to themselves. Why don’t they defend themselves? They have tons of these extremely powerful weapons, but they don’t use them. They trade them away for food. They have no conception of the idea of stealing or using these weapons to take food. They don’t seem to know how to threaten. They’ll lash out, often without a clear reason why, but they otherwise don’t seem to know how to use violence for an agenda. But, mostly, they don’t use their weapons.

One possibility is that, sometime in the past twenty years, humans made it clear that if the aliens used the weapons, they would be killed immediately. But that doesn’t make sense to me because I don’t think these aliens are intelligent enough to think that through. Besides, I don’t think that would be enough of a deterrent to stop them from ever using the weapons. Plus, they get killed immediately for doing tons of things (like taking a guys arm off) and we still see them doing those things.

No, I think they have to be told to use the weapons. I think these aliens have an extremely hierarchal society and the lowest classes aren’t capable of making those kinds of decisions. They can fend for themselves to some extent, but they have no conception of the future. Or the past, for all I know.

I think these guys require a leader. They require an alien with more intelligence to tell them what to do. I think the main alien (Christopher Johnson) was that leader on the ship. It’s clear that he is capable of planning, since he’s been collecting the liquid for twenty years in order to get back to the ship. Also, at least initially, he has an alien following him around and doing what he says. It’s also clear that even Christopher’s child is significantly more intelligent than that one.

Also, this might be reading too much into things, but he calls the other aliens “my people”. But the other interesting thing is that the other aliens came to Mikus’s rescue at the end. I think, if he wanted, he could be the leader for the aliens left on the earth. They would follow him.

Alright, so here’s my slightly crazy theory. We know that the liquid can turn non-aliens into aliens, right? So, what if the aliens are so hierarchal, because some of the societal classes didn’t start out as the aliens? What if Christopher is an original alien, but the rest of these worker bees started out as something else. Just saying.

I guess I have to admit that my theory doesn’t do the best job of keeping myself open minded (because now I’m suggesting that the aliens are quite capable of the subjugation of other species). Admittedly, I’m hardly suggesting that the aliens go to other planets to find life to turn into themselves. In my mind, the workers started out as some other non-sentient species living on the alien planet and were turned into the barely intelligent beings we see.

Well, that’s my two cents on the aliens’ background. Do with it what you will. And I think the reason that Christopher Johnson hasn’t been trying to lead his people is that his only goal was to get the ship back in operation. To get home. He could live with the treatment the aliens were receiving because he believed it would be temporary. That they would be able to go home eventually. But, when he saw truly horrible things that the company was doing to his people, I think it changed his priorities a little bit. Suddenly, getting his people off this world became a much higher priority than it had been. He finally understood that this world wasn’t safe for his people.

In some ways, I wonder what would have happened if him and his son hadn’t managed to get away. Would he have started trying to unite the aliens once they moved out to District 10? Would he have started working towards improving their situation here, instead of merely trying to get them off the planet? I hope so. That would be pretty cool to watch, too. In some ways, I wonder if Mikus would do that. The movie seems to suggest that he’s just trying to hide out for the next three years. But, I think he’s grown enough to be the leader the aliens need.

Also, I think its interesting that the alien population is exploding in District 10. I don’t know what the result of that will be, but I’m sure it will be a source of tension in the future. I can’t help but wonder what Christopher is going to find when he comes back. I hope there’s still a population left to save. I hope Mikus is still alive to provide even the barest proof that humanity can be better than they’ve been.

Man, I want more. Maybe I'll write more later, we'll see. I need to go watch it again.

That is all.


1 comment:

shaylan91321 said...

Frances I love your theories on what could have been the reason for the lack of retaliation by the aliens. That was my biggest frustration in the movie. I really appreciate you helping me with that. Man alive that bugged me throughout the film.

I really enjoyed the film otherwise, here are a few thoughts I put together after seeing the movie again and reading your commentary.

What stood out to me as the biggest issue was the idea that the aliens didn’t retaliate against the humans. Even the slowest of living breathing creatures know when they are being done a wrong, and a most natural response to abuse is retaliation even if its just running away. The aliens had those massive weapons and just gave them away that just infuriated me. I believe that with that kind of firepower retaliation would have been inevitable. For the horrific treatment. I feel if they had explained that a little bit more it would have made me less frustrated with the movie.

I loved the movie however and I felt that even though that particular issue was never really addressed, the point was driven home about racism. The movie makes it profoundly clear that it doesn’t matter what color you are people have a certain amount of prejudice with things they don’t understand or that are different or that they feel threatened by. Even if its irrational.

Using South Africa as the back drop character in the movie exemplified this point and drove it home. Using Wikus, the main character was interesting because he seemed to be a kind of the middle of the the road racist, and maybe the most dangerous, because I believe he is most of us as humans. We don’t like them but we don’t want people to think we don’t like them and we have convinced ourselves that as long as we think we are helping we are helping. There in, justifying our racist thinking. Which usually ends with us justifying the bases behavior.