A typical science-fiction movie features aliens, futuristic weapons, and some plot to take over the world. District 9, a 2009 film by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, takes this formula to the next level and creates a plausible scenario that fills you with excitement and shock.
The story begins as an investigative documentary, featuring various “experts” commenting on the status of the District 9 initiative. In the 1980s, a space ship landed in South Africa. It did not attack or abduct anything. It just hovered in one spot with no sign of movement inside. Once the South Africans found a way inside the ship, they found a large population of aliens who seemed ill and starving. They were called “prawns” and were relocated to District 9, a refugee camp to administer food and other resources to help them. Fast-forward to 2010, good intentions and the refugee camp have deteriorated. It has turned into a militarized ghetto with every sort of criminal activity involved. A weapon corporation, called Multi-National United, is contracted to evict the “prawns” to District 10, located outside of Johannesburg. The main character, named Wikus van der Merwe, is put in charge of the operation not because of his position or intelligence, but because he is an easy scapegoat. During the operation he is exposed to an alien chemical which causes him to gradually transform into a “prawn.” The rest of the film portrays his struggle as he has to choose between humans, who want to harvest his body to utilize the alien weapons, or “prawns,” who just want to go home.
It’s been a long time since I have enjoyed a science-fiction film, and I could not stop thinking about this one for days after I watched it. There are so many aspects to it, from the way it is portrayed to the story line to the hidden messages and missing pieces. I will try my best to share all of this with you without ruining the ending.
Like I said before, the film was made to look like a documentary. The camera shakes sometimes, a number of angles are awkward, and the camera man is asked to stop recording a few times. The story jumps back and forth through time so that the viewer is constantly guessing as the pieces are gradually revealed. The influence of the media and corporate agendas are in full play in this film. The story seems to be primarily guided by human emotions reacting to something that is different, which begins with generosity and ends with hostility.
There was a lot of symbolism in this film. Referring to the outcome of the refugee camp, one could draw a distinct line connecting this story with apartheid in South Africa with the Bantu stands. There were images of signs that read “humans only,” echoing a time period where signs used to read “whites only.” The film also shed light on the struggle for power between politics and corporations. The South African government did not feature anywhere in the picture. Everything was run by the weapon corporation, who were solely interested in achieving their own benefits and exploiting the “prawns” weapon technology. The media gave the illusion of being transparent by providing live footage of everything that happened for the world to see, but were only reporting what the weapon corporation ordered.
I thought this was a very plausible storyline. The portrayal of the future of technology primarily affecting the development of weapons and power is definitely something that will continue…with or without aliens. This would be a great film to critique and discuss in an arts or film class. Why did the aliens come? Were they stuck or was it planned? Why were only two of the aliens planning to return, while the rest seemed less intelligent? If you have seen this film, please let me know. I would love to discuss it with you. I highly recommend this film to anyone who enjoys intellectual stimulation and exposure to an alternative view on human society.