Science fiction is never more socially relevant than when it holds up a mirror for us to see ourselves as we are, and this film does that very well.
District 9 is a 2009 science fiction thriller film directed by Neill Blomkamp, written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell. The film stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James.
The film’s title refers to a township created to accommodate the arrival of some aliens forced to land on earth when their ship has technical problems. Their ship is the size of a city and hangs in the air Johannesburg, dominating almost every exterior shot in the film. Its a symbol of what these unfortunate aliens have lost. A way to get home.
Humanity responds to the arrival of these aliens poorly. DIstrict 9 is not a broadly painted depiction of aliens arriving on earth, like Alien Nation (1988). Its portrayal of South Africa after some aliens land is unequaled in its brutal honesty and its grim depiction of how humanity treats the unfortunate aliens unlucky enough to land here. They get treated like animals, and I don’t mean fluffy cute domesticated pet-like animals, they get handled in the most unpleasant, disgusting, and hostile manner imaginable.
This film is a portrayal of humanity at its worst. Mean, compassionless, and lacking in any of the qualities we like to believe distinguishes us from the other lifeforms that inhabit this planet.
The depiction of District 9, is a portrayal of a nightmare, for anyone unfortunate enough to be on the wrong side of the equation, and gives a disturbing and frightening glimpse of how life must have been for blacks in South Africa during apartheid.
There is no escaping the fact that this film is a thinly disguised, disturbing reference to conditions in the country it takes place in before things changed. It is violent, grim, gritty, darkly realistic, and merciless in what it depicts, and it rings all too true in the statement it makes about humanity. That we have a choice to behave like animals, or we can choose to be reasonable and civilized, and all too often it seems more natural for people to accept the former over the latter.
The film portrays the government in charge of operations as the villains in this story. They are duplicitous, self-serving, and coldly sociopathic in their treatment of the visitors to our world. They are interested only in how they can exploit and profit from the alien’s superior technology and especially their weapons, which will only activate in the presence of alien DNA. Likewise, the population is not at its best either. There are ‘no aliens’ signs everywhere in an ugly portrait of segregation that is disquieting to see
The aliens, although roughly humanoid in form, more closely resemble insects, and are given the mean-spirited, dehumanizing nickname of Prawns because their faces and other features resemble those of earth’s aquatic creatures. They are preyed upon by the authorities and criminals alike and treated poorly by everyone, and they are even the subjects of medical and scientific research just like they are lab rats provided for that purpose.
What’s interesting is these creatures are powerful and fast, they could easily have put up a fight, and why they did not fight back is not explained.
The story this film tells mostly revolves around a decision by the authorities to relocate the aliens from their township to a camp outside Johannesburg. This place amounts to be a concentration camp, although the government attempts to whitewash it as something nice and better for the Prawns. Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an Afrikaner bureaucrat, is appointed by Piet Smit (Louis Minnaar), a Multinational United (MNU)executive and his father-in-law, to lead the relocation.
Wickus quickly establishes he’s not too bright. The guy is a dimwit and is played to the hilt by Copely. in an excellent and memorable portrayal. He is too dimwitted to realize his father-in-law has set him up as a patsy, a fall guy to take the blame in case things go wrong in the execution of his agenda, and things go wrong for Wikus right away.
Meanwhile, three aliens; Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), his son, and a friend, scavenge pieces of their technology from which they distill a fluid of their native provenance, and store it in a small canister. This liquid played an essential role in the story. It took 20 years to make. Wikus confiscates the container from the shack of Christopher’s friend, but accidentally sprays some of the fluid onto his face. Christopher’s friend gets subsequently killed by Colonel Koobus Venter (David James),
The liquid has a devastating effect on his DNA, and his life by triggering a transformation into one of the aliens he is part of subjugating. This change takes place slowly over time and is not complete until the end of the film. Venter is a sadistic and xenophobic PMC mercenary-soldier who is later sent to capture Wikus. He takes pleasure in killing the aliens and responds brutally to anyone who opposes him.
Wickus begins to change, and his left arm slowly gets transformed into that of alien. He is later hunted and caught by the authorities he once worked for and experiences the nightmare of the aliens existence first hand when he gets taken to the research section of the MNU compound. He is experimented on by scientists and forced to initiate the alien weapons which are devastatingly destructive, causing the target of their power, in some cases to explode into a splatter of blood and flesh.
When the scientists decide to dissect him, he freaks and escapes using his newfound alien strength to help accomplish his departure. Later, after being declared a criminal, and hunted, Wikus is forced to hide in District 9 and coincidentally runs into Johnson and his son in his shack while attempting to evade capture. He learns about the nature of his problem and the fluid that caused it; Johnson promises he can fix him, but it might take awhile, but first, they must reclaim the liquid which is back in MNU headquarters.
Together they pull off the daring raid to reclaim the fluid, and while they are in the compound, Johnson sees the research room and what the humans have been doing his people. His response is all too human. He is horrified at what he sees. They succeed in escaping with their prize and return to District 9, but now the hunt for Wickus is intensified, and things get crazier than they were already. There is also an encounter with a Nigerian gang which unofficially runs district 9, and their leader wants to eat Wickus’ arm in hopes of gaining his power.
Eventually, after several drawbacks and obstacles seem as if they will cause their mission to fail, Johnson and his son return their gigantic mothership and leave for their home. He has promised to return and fulfill his vow to help Wickus’ regain his humanity.
It is supposed to take three years for him to accomplish this, and the movie ends with Wickus, now completely transformed into an alien, sitting on a trash heap in District 9, looking at the sky with only his hope, and belief in the alien’s promise to sustain him
District 9 is a great, great movie, and nothing short of excellent. Its full of action, epic fight scenes, and is disturbing in its depiction of its entertaining, and engaging narrative. The cast is superb, and production quality is top notch, including excellent special effects. Recently reports claim that Neill Blomkamp has a sequel, the long-awaited District 10 in the works.