About the Film
In 2009, Neill Blomkamp burst onto the scene with his first feature film, District 9. It was an enormous critical and commercial success: critics praised Blomkamp's filmmaking style, and audiences around the world turned out to the box office to support the film's originality and innovation. But the reason it resonated was that the movie had themes that grabbed the audience: the way the film seamlessly blended a genre alien-invasion movie with biting and relevant social commentary pleased both moviegoing audiences and members of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, who nominated the movie for Oscars for Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
In his new film, Elysium, Blomkamp has drawn two distinct and separate worlds: an overpopulated, ruined Earth, and Elysium, a man-made space station for the extremely wealthy. While in 2013, six astronauts live and work on the international space station orbiting about 250 miles above the surface of the Earth, 150 years from now, in Blomkamp's vision, those humble beginnings will expand to become a home with the best of everything for the rich. "The idea, in a way, is ludicrous," says Blomkamp. "The idea of taking up stone, and mortar, and concrete, and swimming pools -- and everything you'd need to build these mansions in a space station -- is satire. It just reinforces the central idea of the film -- the people of Elysium have unimaginable wealth, and they use those resources to build a separate, synthetic, almost hermetic environment for themselves. In that way, Elysium is the reverse of an alien-invasion story -- it's still about human beings trying to protect a way of life, but instead of fighting for Earth, they do it by going into space."
Blomkamp based his ideas for a perfect world apart from a desperate, ruined Earth on real-life concepts. "Back in the '70s, people were actually discussing the idea of leaving Earth and building space stations for us to potentially live on one day. One of the top answers to that challenge was the Stanford Torus. I like the idea of taking this well-known concept and caking it with wealth, diamonds and Bel Air-style mansions -- the idea, the image, of putting these exorbitant, ridiculous mansions on a doughnut-shaped space station is hilarious to me, and it becomes something I want to make a movie about."
Simon Kinberg, who produces the film with Blomkamp and Bill Block, says that the non-stop action of Elysium and the political subtext of the film mesh well together, because both come out of who Blomkamp is as a writer and director. "First and foremost, Elysium is an action movie, but the thing about Neill is that he happens to be very interested in the world and politics," he says. "There are themes in the movie that you wouldn't expect from a summer action movie, but hopefully, a moviegoer can see the movie and enjoy the action experience, but have something seep in about the real world as well."
"Neill has the gravitas and expertise as a filmmaker to deliver a crackling action thriller that also tackles serious themes and subjects," adds Block, the CEO of QED International, which also produced District 9. "After our experience with Neill on District 9, we were thrilled to do this one with Modi Wiczyk and MRC."
"I want to blow things up as much as I want to make films that are about serious topics," Blomkamp says. "I'm more of a visual artist than anything else. I don't want to make movies that are too serious -- I like action and visual imagery, and that's where it starts for me. But I'm also interested in politics, so once I've set up the world and start getting into character and story, the political ideas that intrigue me work their way in there. The subjects that interest me tend to be large, sociological concepts, and I like the idea of making films about those concepts in ways that aren't heavy-handed or preachy -- I hope that putting these topics in this setting will let the audience look at them from a different perspective. The most important thing to me is that the movie is entertaining, but I like to put a worthwhile story underneath, so it isn't just pure popcorn."
"I like to think it's a hopeful message," says Matt Damon, who takes on the lead role of the film. "Even in a future where it's every man for himself, it'll be possible for a human being to hold on to his humanity."
Just as District 9 explored ideas of social justice, class separation, and race relations, Elysium asks important questions about where we are now in a context of where we are going. "The entire film is an allegory," Blomkamp says. "I tend to think a lot about the topic of wealth discrepancy and how that affects immigration, and I think the further we go down the path that we are on, the more the world will represent the one in Elysium. In that sense, I think the questions that underlie the film are quite accurate."
In fact, Blomkamp says that the heart of the conflict is more real than one might realize. "When people see the wealth of Elysium back-to-back with the poverty of Earth, I think some will think that it's more extreme than reality -- and it is not. The two things exist, on Earth, right now," he says. "In Mexico City, in Johannesburg, in Rio, you have pockets of great wealth, gated communities, amidst a sea of poverty. And I think that's where the cities of the US are going to end up, too -- that's why the movie is set in Los Angeles. But that disparity can't last. And I don't know what we're going to get -- whether we're going to pull ourselves forward or self-implode. Elysium is the fork in the road."
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