Elysium, starring Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, opened last week to mixed reviews. The dystopian sci-fi film from District 9 director Neill Blomkamp is unbearably full of political commentary, mostly focused on immigration. Unfortunately, the film is far too lazy, sloppy, and preachy to make an coherent point.
Set in the year 2154, the film takes its names from the space station hovering around an overpopulated, polluted, and Spanish-speaking Earth. Elysium is the home of the wealthy white people with a perfect health care system. Earth is the home of all the brown people, Matt Damon, and magically earthquake-proof dwellings dangling off the sides of Los Angeles skyscrapers. Earth, of course, has no decent health care system to speak of. Elysium's secretary of Homeland Security, played with some sort of obnoxious wannabe-French accent by Jodie Foster, splits her time between shooting down shuttles filled with "undocumented" brown people and plotting a coup d'etat on the space habitat. When Matt Damon gets sick, he decides it's time to save all the brown people by letting them move in upstairs.
Although Elysium suffered from a terrible script, silly story, and questionable acting (seriously, Jodie Foster, never talk like that again), it was so blatant in its political commentary that it has set some people off. The InfoWars crowd has declared the film to be blatant propaganda in Hollywood's efforts to establish a new one-world government (in their typical schizophrenic fashion, InfoWars also says that Earth's elitists are already planning a space station from which to destroy Earth). Progressives have sung praises of Matt Damon's character being a champion for the 99%. Others have blasted the film's heavy-handed preachyness.
While the film spends a lot of time misunderstanding health care, wealth creation, income inequality, and how technological advancements work, the primary political focus is on immigration. Jodie Foster and her accent make sure to let us know that she is firing missiles at undocumented shuttles. The robots make sure to decide who they kill and who they save based on who is a citizen and who is not. And just in case you did not get the allegory enough, Blomkamp hits you in the head with it by filming his 2154 Los Angeles in today's Mexico City.
For all the terrible logic in this film, Blomkamp does manage to show some of the inherent inhumanity of closed borders. The Competitive Enterprise Institute's David Bier recently laid out how closed borders are a staple of tyrannical regimes, and how allowing immigration threatens despots (judging by what little we know of Elysium's politics, it isn't exactly a liberal democracy). Restricting the free movement of people and goods, as the Elysians do to the Earthlings, is a cruel, dangerous, and unjust policy. Xenophobia and hatred of immigrants is not a new phenomenon; it has reared its face at everything from chattel slavery to the persecution of the Irish to the recent treatment of Sebastien de la Cruz (who people just assumed was an immigrant).
Elysium fails to treat these obstacles that immigrants face well, and thus misses a huge opportunity to provide insight to America's current debate over immigration reform and what to do with the millions of undocumented immigrants in this country. Blomkamp tried to make immigration strictly an issue of class warfare, and subsequently failed to give any explanation for what caused the borders to close, what makes the Elysians want to keep them closed, and what could possibly come of a world where they aren't closed.
Blomkamp's District 9 did a far better job at commenting on segregation and the fear of the other, and was a much more entertaining, though-provoking movie. People praised the film for its clever political commentary. For Elysium, Blomkamp seemed to take the praise as an invitation to go all Occupy Wall Street on us. If you want an entertaining movie, see something else. If you want a meaningful discussion on immigration reform, go read something. Whatever you do, stay as far away as you can from Jodie Foster and that weird accent!