“District 9” — Entertainment or political statement?

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Movie poster for District 9

Movie poster for District 9

An idea that originated from a short story by Neill Blomkamp has become a full blown success for the director. Assisted by Peter Jackson, along with the outstanding acting of Sharlto Copley, “District 9” has become a box office hit. Some of you may know that Halo was supposed to be made by these two individuals, however; due to bureaucratic matters Halo fell through, and the result was the creation of District 9.

The movie is set in modern day Johannesburg, but there isn’t anything modern about it. For twenty-eight years now, an alien race has occupied a territory within Johannesburg and has become an area known as District 9. At first, the humans are astounded at the prospect of other life forms inhabiting their planet, and the fact that intelligent life even exists outside of Earth. The intrigue soon turns to resentment when the people of Earth begin to slowly realize that the alien race is there to stay.

Progressing in time, the alien presence spawns hate locally and globally. The people of Johannesburg and the World realize that the alien race are refugees of some sort, and have no contribution to the planet. Instead, they have become leeches of the planet they have inhabited.

Inevitably, violence breaks out amongst humans and the “prawns” (a derogatory term towards the alien race). Government begins to step in to squelch the violence and turmoil that is happening amongst the people of Johannesburg, and eventually they quarantine the aliens in an area known as District 9. That is the background of the setting before it even starts to get into the actual film. It is crucial to understand the hate that has been built among the aliens and humans to feel the fool force of what is happening, and possibly what Blomkamp is trying to state.

Sharlto Copley, or Wikus van de Merwe, is an MNU operative that is in charge of moving all the aliens in District 9 to a newly relocated spot, much like internment camps. MNU or Multinational United is much like the modern day INS. Their task is all alien matters, and they are also one of the largest weapon producers in the world, which plays a large part in the film.

Copley, in the first shots of the film is happy, excited, and enthusiastic about his new job, his life, and everything he is doing. With documentary style footage in the beginning of the film, it shows this excitement and takes us along with Copley on his newly acquired task within District 9.

Entering District 9, it is obviously a slum. Trash is everywhere; homes are tightly packed and shambled together with wood and metal boards. The aliens have obviously been neglected and are not being helped with shelter and all the necessities for survival. From the struggle, the aliens have begun to forage for food, commit crimes, and also sell weapons they make to Nigerian rebels. Copley goes into District 9 and shows an obvious distaste for the species as if they are some type of common animal, primitive and uneducated.

He begins to tell the alien species they must sign papers to relocate to their new homes, and also makes runs through their homes to check for any breaches of law, such as making weapons, stealing technology, illegitimate breeding houses for eggs, and any other issues of misconduct amongst the aliens.

As he goes from home to home in the district, Copley is confronted by the aliens, who are highly intelligent and aware that their rights are being denied. Scanning for weapons and other breaches of law, Copley is inadvertently sprayed with a substance that two aliens had been accumulating for twenty years. The substance was made in order to fuel the mother ship so they could return home. The effect on humans, however, is that it manipulates their DNA, ultimately turning them into one of the aliens.

Copley immediately begins to feel the effect of the substance and eventually his right arm mutates into an alien arm. MNU quickly recognizes this and forces Copley to partake in tests with alien weaponry which can only be activated by alien DNA. MNU decides to dissect Copley because he was an experiment that would provide invaluable experience to the organization in the production of weaponry and utilizing it.

Eventually Copley escapes and seeks refuge in District 9. While there he tries to find a way to return himself to his human state, which leads to him teaming up with one of the aliens who created the substance. This is all in the hope of making himself human again and returning to the life he knew before he was changed.

In the end Copley ends up having a moment of true altruistic intent and saves the alien by sacrificing himself and his humanity to allow the alien to return home and save his species.

District 9 is a powerful, action-packed film that many will enjoy, but is Blomkamp saying much more in this film than he is portraying?

Blomkamp’s, first hint to his subtle undertone of the movie is the location in which it takes place, Johannesburg. Troubled with racism and violence, Johannesburg has become a racially fueled environment. The situation the aliens face in the film is exactly identical to the issues that have been plaguing South Africa for years.

Relocation of Africans has sparked violence, racism and anti-racism rallies in the area, and continues to this day. Blomkamp’s example in the movie echoes this problem through the experiences of the aliens in the film. Trying to show how people have become intolerant, and racially prejudice in Johannesburg.

The message he sends is not only true in Johannesburg, but throughout the world. America, France, Russia, Iraq, almost any place in the world is fueled by this hate. Maybe Blomkamp felt by making the message indirect, people would be adversely affected by this pseudo situation and look at it in a modern day light.

The world has become a cesspool for intolerance, and as a result we have become morally and intellectually corrupt as a people. The message we must get from Blomkamp’s film is we need to see this hate and cast it aside once it rears its ugly head. Tolerance is the key and must be the key for us all.

All in all the film is powerful, entertaining, and poignant. It is a must see, but don’t just take it for a simple entertainment factor. Instead look at as a film that speaks volumes about the intolerance in humanity, and around the globe.

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