Thursday, 10 September 2009

District 9

District 9 is the much-hyped movie on current release; the current Number 1 in the UK box office, and reckoned to be pushing Star Trek as the premier science fiction movie of 2009.

One of the strengths of the film is the way in which it immediately engages the watcher. Like other recent films, the use of hand-held cameras and footage apparently CCTV cameras breathlessly grabs the audience's attention. About 30 minutes into the film I found myself surprised at the way in which I was so bothered about the welfare of a group of prawn-shaped aliens!

I had a love-hate relationship with the technical sides of the film. Sharlto Copley, in what I believe is his first, role as Wikus van de Merwe (an official charged with overseeing the forced evacuation from District 9 to the purpose-made District 10) is excellent. The scenes amongst the slums of District 9 have been excellently shot, and the special effects and costumes meant that I sometimes had to remind myself I was watching a science-fiction film. On the downside, the swearing in the film felt gratuitous (adding nothing to either plot or characterisation), Wikus' relationship with his wife wasn't developed enough and there was more gore than was probably necessary. Of the group that I saw the film with, some liked it, others didn't.

I once heard one of my heroes, the film critic Mark Kermode, saying that the best science fiction points beyond itself, where aliens are allegories or metaphors of people. And that's clearly in the mind of the film and script writers. The questions that the film poses are obvious: To whom should 'human rights' apply? Is it ever right to ignore a person's human rights? And what are the dangers when a population are treated as second-class citizens? There are also questions posed regarding the philanthropic intentions of multinational companies.

Above all, the fact that District 9 is set in Johannesburg and that it opens with the re-location of aliens from one township to another means that the movie watcher cannot help but associate the aliens with the black population of South Africa under apartheid. (Interestingly, the film opens in the early 1980s, when the aliens arrive over South Africa when, of course, apartheid was still in full force). Yet the politics of the film is far from a direct allegory of apartheid: there are other scenes that seem to echo the Nazi experiments on Jews during the Second World War, as well as the treatment of African-American slaves whilst away from home.

District 9 is an interesting piece. I, for one, hope that a sequel isn't made. An interesting discussion point with friends might be how they would imagine the loose ends of the film might be tied up, and to then discuss what is said about human nature.

1 comment:

Dave K said...

Mark Kermode... what a hero!

It was a weird film. Everyone was stupid... nevermind casually thoughtless.

Settling into Donny ok? If you drop by York anytime while surveying your new patch do let me know.