District 9 becomes a concentration camp

District 9

An Illusion Review by Joan Ellis


            If you wanted to comment on the nature of power on our planet, wouldn’t your first thought be to hang a giant space ship over Johannesburg? Writer/director Neill Blomkamp has done just that in his new film “District 9.” He ignores the world’s larger cities to focus on the land of Apartheid. And though South Africa may be the illustration, the movie could have been set wherever people are oppressed.

            When the local citizenry realizes, after two decades, that the aliens in the space ship are malnourished, they decide to help them by bringing them to earth to a refugee settlement called District 9. The physical needs of the aliens, being different from humans, begin to stamp them not only as different, but dangerous. Result? The settlement quickly turns into a sprawling slum of tin shacks, rubble, and violence. And so we know quickly why Mr. Blomkamp chose Johannesburg.

            Threatened by the alien nature of the beings, the humans decide to move them to District 10, an area at a safe remove from the city where the people of Johannesburg will not have to suffer nearness to their strange culture. District 10 becomes a concentration camp.

            And now we meet Multi-National United, a private security firm bearing an uncanny likeness to firms that have unleashed their bad deeds in Iraq. The firm has not one iota of interest in the humans or the aliens, now called prawns, who are now being forcibly transferred from District 9 to their more isolated home. MNU sees only their weaponry, and they want the secret.

            Wilkus Van De Merwe (Sharito Copley), a feckless employee of Multi-National United is mediocre in mind and body but driven by outsized ambition. Put in charge of the transfer of the aliens by his callous father- in-law, he finds the fluid that is the secret to the aliens’ assault power. Splashed with fluid, he starts to turn into a prawn. The oppressor has become the oppressed.

            Blomkamp tugs the heartstrings with an appealing alien father and son who become allies with Van De Merwe. Gradually, we root for the humane trio. The villain, the big, white MNU boss who cares only about the technology of weapons and destruction of the Prawns, is a symbol for so many of the villains we have had to watch in recent years. He is the ugly brute destroying innocents.

            I realized early on that I like the lessons I need to learn when they come straight at me. My personal problem with District 9 is that science fiction doesn’t hold much appeal, and alien creatures, created deliberately to challenge our aesthetics, don’t win me over even when they have tender hearts – except naturally, for the toddler Prawn and his dad. And this of course leaves me sunk in my seat thinking th at I, like so many others, must be guilty of responding only to creatures who are familiar. And perhaps that is Blomkamp’s big test for us all.


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