"That you may ruminate"

…On District 9.

Posted by Steve on August 17, 2009

I’m very glad I went to see District 9 Friday night. And I’m glad I went to see it again yesterday. I wanted more after the first time, and yesterday I gave myself more – and at the same time, got to notice all sorts of little things I’d missed the first time. The sorts of rich backgrounds of a truly well-made film. Which, this most certainly is. It’s the most imaginative sci-fi movie I’ve seen in years – as far as I can remember, at least since Dark City. It’s intelligent, it’s a thrilling action movie, it’s emotionally gripping, and in the best traditions of the Twilight Zone and the Outer Limits, it is honest in portraying the deep and rudimentary flaws in human nature – in a way, like Children of Men. And indeed, I predict that like Children of Men, it will be horribly snubbed come the Academy Awards: I doubt it will be nominated for the Best Picture it will deserve to win, and I doubt Sharlto Copley will be considered for Best Actor in a Leading Role.

So be it. All I can say before we go to happy-cut-tag-land to prevent spoilers, is: Go see this movie. It is amazing. And remember, “A smile is cheaper than a bullet!”.

Actually, before the cut, I’ll add something else. The woman “E” who wrote this review displays a lamentable ignorance of human history. I agree that the movie contains a level of gore that will disgust many people (though going to a movie with Peter Jackson’s name so prominently associated with it, you should expect gore. Being surprised by gore in a movie associated with Peter Jackson is like being surprised by fart and Jew jokes in a movie associated with Mel Brooks), and there is horrific barbarism (though in my opinion, there is justice meted out and redemption had), which was unsettling even to me the first time. But to watch the movie and say “[I] was insulted that they tried to make that comparison” is equivalent to watching Children of Men and saying “I was insulted that the movie suggested prison guards would put a prisoner in a black hood and garbage-bag cloak, stick him on a box, and string him up with wires“. Considering that the movie pulled the details straight out of real events – as I will explain in spoilering form below the cut – you should not be insulted. If anything, you should be ashamed of your limited knowledge of actual human history.


Now, Miss “E” states, “I just can’t believe they thought they could compaire the holocaust or apartheid to what the aliens were going through.”. Well, let’s see… the movie begins with forced relocation of the aliens living in District 9, Johannesburg, South Africa. I’m going to assume that E is, like me, a white middle-class American, and so I’m not going to blame her for not knowing that during apartheid, there was forced relocation of the black people living in District 6, Cape Town, South Africa. I am going to blame her, though, for not knowing about Negro RemovalUrban Renewal and Indian Removal. So… forced relocation… check.

Ok, so what about being used as test subjects for destructive medical experimentation and as targets for weapons tests? Well, testing weapons on live people is more commonly associated with the Imperial Japanese Army’s Unit 731 than Nazi experimentation. That is, more commonly associated by people who know about more human experimentation than just what the Nazis did. But as long as we’re talking about the Nazis – and fuck it, I thought EVERYBODY knew about that! – what Nazis like Megele did was more of the vivisection and deliberate-infliction-of-wounds to see their effects sort. And you know, when Wikus gets wheeled through the lab and when he and Christopher Johnson break in, there’s a lot of… vivisected Prawns… and Prawns that have been burned… and… hmm… looks to me like Mr. Blomkamp may have, oh, I don’t know, read the evidence that was presented at the Nuremberg Trials and stuck that in his movie with the only changes being the substitution of MNU for the Nazis and the aliens for the Jews, Roma, POWs, etc.

Come to think of it… Wikus gets infected, and rather than treat him, doctors leave the infection untreated to study its effects. There’s no way that could possibly be similar to a real event like the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Of course, E did specify “apartheid”, which generally refers to South Africa, and Tuskegee, Alabama, is the the United States… And to be honest, while I made that association, I really don’t think there was the same sort of deliberate basing-on-actual-events that there was with the other stuff.

Regardless… the filmmakers “thought they could compaire the holocaust or apartheid to what the aliens were going through” because they were the exact same thing.

On a comparably trivial note, I found the subtitles kind of annoying. Not the subtitles for the alien language – I appreciated those – but the subtitles when assorted humans were speaking. Just because a guy’s speaking with an accent doesn’t mean he isn’t speaking English! Hell, every African shown in the movie was either Nigerian (and I love that when Obasandjo – the name’s similarity to Obasanjo may or may not be deliberate, but I noticed it Friday night – has his gang rip off the prawns for the power armor, there’s several iterations of translation, which not speaking any African language I can only assume is some sequence involving Igbo, Hausa, and Yoruba. When was the last time you saw a movie that would bother with a detail like Nigeria having multiple official native languages?) or South African… and Nigeria and South Africa were both part of the British (as in English) Empire! Until South Africa got kicked out for being a racist shithole, they were both part of the Commonwealth. People speak English in both Nigeria and South Africa! Sure, the accent’s not American, but when the subtitle is word-for-word what the guy is plainly saying, I think you can dispense with the subtitles. By no means did that ruin the movie, but I did think it was pretty pointless to have English subtitles for people speaking English.

Anyway… I love the movie. And this guy gives a way better review than I just did. For that matter, Roger Ebert gave a surprisingly decent review – surprisingly decent in that I’m surprised he did a decent job of getting the major characters’ names and the major plot events right. Typically, his reviews of science fiction are so bungled on the facts I have to wonder if he actually watched the movie, or just shuffled a deck of flashcards with screenshots on them and looked at those.

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