Elysium’s tale of the “haves” and the “have-nots” is a fascinating look into life into the year 2154. Thanks to overpopulation, the Earth looks to be in ruins. The rich have all fled to Elysium, a space station (known as a habitat), to live in the lap of luxury. Living on Earth seems absolutely terrible. Most animals are apparently gone, living conditions in LA are pretty poor, and I don’t get the sense that food is that easy to come by. Wording conditions are terrible. Nobody is getting decent medical treatment. Life on Earth is pretty bleak.
I avoided most of the buzz leading up to the movie, so I’m not too sure how much more can be said without spoiling. Oh wait, Matt Damon really wants to get up to Elysium, and has a robo-suit to help get him there.
Warning: This is a post-viewing reaction to Elysium. If you haven’t seen the movie yet, stop reading now. Otherwise, let’s dig in.
Perhaps I had too high of expectations for Elysium, but I was disappointed. The overall premise worked just fine. We were introduced to some interesting characters, technology and ideas. It just didn’t come together for me. I found Elysium to be entertaining, but it just didn’t measure up to its potential. I thought that much of the action and special effects were very good for a film of this budget. I thought the actors did fine work. I just wanted to see more of this world, and see more of characters that didn’t wear and exo-suit. Elysium is good, but could have been great.
Perhaps Elysium is too focused on delivering its core message to make sure the audience has a good time. I'm not sure that it's possible to talk about Elysium without talking about the message. Subtlety is not a word used to describe this movie; so I’ll recognize that the core message of Elysium is that everyone deserves healthcare (especially if Med-Pods are collecting dust on emergency shuttles). That said, Elysium does what science-fiction does best. It tells a story about our modern times, but in a different context that allows us to view the problem in a different way. I just think they may have been a bit too direct with the moral it was trying to deliver.
Looking beyond the medial moral, I was disappointed that the characters of Elysium didn’t seem very dense. I thought there was something very interesting developing with Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster), but it turned out that she wasn't really the primary villain. Her hired gun ended up standing in as the big bad. There are a number of characters who stand in Max’s way, but the system is really the villain. It fits the message; it just doesn’t make interesting conflict.
In fact, I was little frustrated that the culture and politics of Elysium were not explored further. I didn't get the sense that the President was as weak of an individual as Jodie Foster made him out to be. Was everyone in Elysium so callous? Was all service work performed by robots? Were there any social class differences within that society? Did the availability of Med-Pods cause people to be more careless with their health?
Some of the most fascinating details in Elysium were the robots, weapons, and other technology. I’d like to highlight a few that stood out to me.
Robots – In Elysium, robots are used to do the work that is difficult, uncomfortable, or just unwanted. It’s scary, but I can see someone coming to a conclusion that an automated 1-800 number would be more effective if there was just something that looked like a person delivering the message. Robotic police officers and armies aren’t a new concept, but I found it interesting how few authority figures were on Earth. These robots had a lot of authority. That said, I found it a bit strange that the robots were not used to make more robots. Perhaps the factory owners had seen The Terminator, but I’m guessing human work is just that cheap.
Medical Tech – I don’t understand why a Med-Pod was in every home in Elysium, but not one existed on Earth. Also, why did the Med-Pod room seem to replace the living room? Oh wait, was putting a life extending device in the living room something done on purpose? On a different note, the whole facial reconstruction thing just seems to have been done because they could. It really doesn’t serve a purpose, other than to make me sit back and say “Wow, that’s cool.”
Brains as Digital Storage – Data security and the 22nd century is a serious issue. It would make sense that an exo-suit would need to connect to the nervous system, but I’m not sure I’ve seen a brain used as a hard drive in this way. Not only do people save information directly in their brain, but it can be encrypted (to the point of death). I’m not sure the rules of access and transferring data made sense to me, but it was a fascinating concept.
Scanning Technology – I’m not sure I buy that the Elysium main computer knows where every sick person on earth is, but I absolutely bought into the idea that a ship could use facial recognition to search a crowd. Everyone who was visible on camera could be identified and linked to all personal information. We’re not that far from such technology now, and I think audiences are far less shocked to see it now than they were a few years back in Minority Report’s similar technology.
Elysium’s Atmosphere – Convenient oversight for the sake of simplicity, or a really cool invention that allows residents of the habitat to breath oxygen without living in an enclosed bubble? You decide.
In the end, I'm glad to have seen Elysium because it tries out some new things. It was story that felt pretty original, despite a pretty simple and familiar set up. That said, I’m not quite sure what Elysium does really well. There were some interesting cultural and technological ideas introduced in the film; we just don’t see many of them played out in a meaningful way. That's where my mild disappointment Elysium comes from. Considering the questions it raised and ideas it shared, the film didn't seem very deep to me. Elysium is frustrating because it does so many things right, but fails to really work. It doesn’t feel like they did anything bad. There are plenty of good elements; just not great elements.
What did you think? Am I being too hard on Elysium? Too forgiving? What tech in the film did you find the most impressive?