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The False Liberal Promise of "Elysium"

News
by Anthony Kaufman
August 11, 2013 11:17 AM
6 Comments
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Of course, Neill Blomkamp's "Elysium" is political, but news pundits, never exactly attuned to the subtleties of narrative and ideology, miss the big picture. Critics and observers have endlessly recycled the idea that the film is some kind of sci-fi epic for the Occupy movement, in which the 99% rebel against the 1%, in a special-effect driven battle for universal healthcare and citizenship. And yes, while this may be the case on the film's dystopian surface, "Elysium" fails as the kind of liberal "political propaganda" that some conservatives have labeled it as.

As Messianic narratives go, "Elysium" is even more white, Christian and reactionary than "The Matrix." Who better to save the human race, and particularly all those poor brown people than a young white blue-eyed Matt Damon, of course? At least Blomkamp's previous "District 9" had its white protagonist literally take the shape of the oppressed alien other. But with "Elysium," Damon's character may be an orphan raised by Mexican nuns and in love with a Latina, but he's still the same familiar white hero who is predestined to save the day. Why couldn't Diego Luna have been the star and Damon the sidekick?

"Elysium" also fails to rouse its audience. If propaganda is meant to persuade its audiences of a political agenda or foist a strong political perspective, the movie's simplistic Utopian perspective lets the audience off the hook. At no point in the movie are we in doubt of its conclusion. And when it comes, it does not arrive as a triumph, but as a let down. We do not leave the theater infuriated, angry or compelled to act in favor of passing comprehensive immigration or healthcare reform; we leave the theater believing that all is well and EMS robots will drop from the sky and save us all.

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6 Comments

  • Zorch | October 18, 2013 8:29 PMReply

    Did anyone notice that the leader of the 99% underground faction happened to wear the green fatigues of Castro? Perhaps you also noticed that that Castroite and Damon very nicely fit the Castro / Guevera motif (and Damon correspondingly dies for the cause)? How about the Obamacare for all ending of the movie? These are only a few of the points proving this film is nothing more than Micheal Moore's sci-fi fantasy. The ability of liberal audience members to delude themselves is on full parade in all reader commentary sections regarding this film.
    Sheesh...

  • Cavale | September 30, 2013 8:55 PMReply

    Of course, this blog post is political, but bloggers, never exactly attuned to the subtleties of self-reflection, miss the big picture. Who better to defend the interests of the oppressed that white, elite journalist and educator Anthony Kaufman? Kaufman may be some sort of leftist, but he sees himself as the usual white intellectual hero, predestined by his elite education to save us from the false consciousness of "liberal" Hollywood.

    This blog post fails to rouse its readers. If criticism is meant to enlighten its readers as to the effective of an artwork on the human mind and society, the post's simplistic academic Marxist perspective lets the readers off the hook. At no point in the post are we in doubt of its conclusion. We do not come away from the blog with insights as to how to make better film within the world as it currently exists, but with a smug satisfaction that we, like Kaufman, are more politically savvy that Neil Blomkamp and Matt Damon. It's that warm feeling of intellectual superiority that we've been trained so well to enjoy as we compete our way up the echelons of capitalist society.

    (All snark aside, do you really think that, if the movie had a sadder or more frustrating ending, a "roused" audience would march off and enact immigration or health care reform? What's your evidence for the contention that representing defeat inspired people to action?)

  • CineBank | August 12, 2013 6:02 AMReply

    This movie flopped HUGE, so who cares, really.

  • matt | August 11, 2013 8:53 PMReply

    It's An Action Movie You Dolts.

  • polfilmblog | August 11, 2013 4:12 PMReply

    Couldn't disagree more.

    Revolution Goes Global: http://wp.me/pwAWe-2uH

    This move clearly draws a distinction between the majority and the minority. This type of class consciousness is largely verboten these days in corporate media. The powerful feelings associated with this world ring true to the real world, and you are way off the mark.

    "Who better to save the human race, and particularly all those poor brown people than a young white blue-eyed Matt Damon, of course?"

    It is the Latino characters who repeatedly save his ass, if you paid attention.

  • Truthie | August 11, 2013 1:38 PMReply

    Matt Damon was the star because he's safe, caucasian and consistently pulls in bank. Diego Luna is a great actor, but he's much riskier because nobody recognizes him like they do Matt Damon. In an ideal world, the hero of this story wouldn't have been white. But we don't live in an ideal world. This isn't Habit for Humanity, this is Hollywood. It isn't about what's right or wrong or even good. It's about money.

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