I finally saw District 9 and was quite impressed. It’s the best Science Fiction movie I’ve seen since I can’t remember when. There haven’t been many good SF films recently: the remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still was terrible (and I’m quite a fan of the original), and most other apparently Sci-Fi films out recently (even Star Trek) barely even qualify as hard Sci-Fi. Hollywood seems to have stolen our Science Fiction and replaced it with something called “Techno-Action” instead.
But then along came District 9. The premise is that an alien spaceship breaks down in the skies over Johannesburg South Africa, stranding a million or so insectiod aliens (“Prawns”) on Earth. The aliens are housed in a sprawling, fenced-in slums, fed cat food, and generally mistreated and reviled by the surrounding human community. “At least the government keeps them away from us,” says a woman early in the film. As the movie opens, the Prawns are about to be relocated from the slums to a nice new modern internment camp, and an ineffectual bureaucrat named Wikus Van De Merwe is put in charge of going door-to-alien-door serving eviction notices. Of course, for Wikus, things don’t quite go according to plan.
The thing that makes this movie great is the lack of conventional heroes. Wikus is kind of a drip and is never exactly brilliant, even in the course of his eventual heroics. More interestingly, the Prawns are not particularly exceptional either. They aren’t highly-evolved celestial travelers so much hapless passengers on a giant interstellar greyhound bus that had the misfortunate to break down in some out-of-the-way spot. The movie has a lot to say about racism, both overt and institutional, and what allows it to raise these issues so deftly is precisely that the Prawns aren’t particularly noble in the face of oppression. Rather than asking us to feel for them, we are instead encouraged to think about what our responsibilities towards our fellow beings are, even when those beings are ordinary flawed and brutish folk who we happen to not like very much. In other words, the Prawns are just like any real-life tread-upon group. Even better is that the movie manages to avoid delivering a heavy-handed moral pronouncement on the situation (that I really liked the ending is all I’ll say about that).
Definitely worth checking out.