Saturday, August 22, 2009

District 9

So I've still been working on Identity. I will say I'd hoped this process would go more quickly, but I do have an idea. The latest approach is trying to get in everybody's heads and better portray the conflicts that emerge from all these people fighting for love and acceptance. It's...dangerous. It's more similar to what I did in Echoes, but there's danger in a lot of POVs changing, which is why I hadn't tried it until now.

But, in other news, I saw District 9 today.

District 9 introduces the audience quickly to its premise: that aliens were stranded on Earth in 1982 above Johannesburg, and ever since, they've been hemmed into a slum, kept under the militaristic jurisdiction of Multinational United (MNU). The beginning of the film takes place as MNU is about to evict all the aliens and send them to a more remote camp, District 10. What we see is fairly standard fare here, with MNU naturally oppressing the aliens, giving flimsy legal justification for their actions and shooting unarmed aliens for relatively slight provocations. The protagonist, Wikus van der Merwe, is in charge of this operation, and despite being a rather odd, unintimidating character, he threatens one alien with taking his son to child services if he doesn't sign the eviction notice.

It's not until the effects of a run-in with alien technology manifest themselves that the story really begins. Wikus is slowly turning into an alien, and since alien technology requires alien DNA to work, he's the subject of intense study. Doctors stab him to see if he feels his transforming arm like he would a human appendage. Soldiers force him to fire alien weapons and stun him with stun guns when he refuses and asks about his wife. He even begs to shoot more pig carcasses when they bring out an alien and, under the stun gun, he splatters the alien over the firing range and all over himself.

District 9 does a good job of not going into "anvillicious" territory. Wikus is not portrayed as being fervently pro-alien now that MNU is after him for his biology, ready to dissect him. His motivations are fairly selfish, as he betrays his alien contact, "Christopher," when Christopher insists on going back to the homeworld with their fuel and save his people from medical experiments, rather than simply cure Wikus of his transformation. Wikus does, however, mention that District 10 is worse than 9, that it's little more than a concentration camp, and that Christopher and his son shouldn't want to go there at all.

In addition, Wikus's reaction to his transformation is realistic, as he begins to panic when he loses fingernails and teeth and tries to "cure" himself by chopping off an alien finger.

What turned me off this movie, though, was the incredible amount of gore. Wikus's transformation is indeed a sight to behold--his arm is a bloody, mangled mess as the alien appendages manifest themselves (and later over his back and chest). Alien weapons splatter human blood and remains in 360 degrees. The movie is nauseating to watch; then again, this may have been the point.

Furthermore, Christopher's refusal to cure Wikus before leaving seems contrived and a shortcut, as it gives the excuse to have the rest of the climax in the plot. Why not cure him then deposit him on Earth and be on your way? The movie offers no answer to this question, and to me, it is a glaring hole.

All in all, though, despite the desire not to eat I came out with, I enjoyed District 9, but it did not surprise me with the messages it came out with. Does it really take aliens for us to know our own brutality and lust for technology? In that respect, the shock of this movie is all in the presentation; I felt no great epiphany leaving the theater, and for a movie as ambitious as this one was, that, to me, represents a small failure.

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