District 9 has demolished the competition at the box office for this past opening weekend. The movie does not disappoint, the chief reason being that there are deep ideas to mull on. There’s a particular theme that is poignant for our species: it’s that fear drives us to give in to our worst tendencies. And we shouldn’t, because we are in the end a moral species, in spite of huge contrary evidence. That moral center is small, it’s constantly clouded by fear, but it’s there.
That, and District 9 is an extremely entertaining film. The starting premise is that a spaceship full of extraterrestrials has been stranded on Earth, hovering above the South African city of Johannesburg. They are resettled on terra firma. This settlement quickly grows into a shantytown, and the result is an interspecies headache for the humans of, well, cosmic proportions. It’s a close encounter which no one is happy with, least of all the aliens, whom the humans derogatively refer to as "prawns." The significance of their social marginalization shouldn’t be lost on us with the film being set in South Africa. With this issue as a backdrop, the viewer is quickly and effectively led through a lean, no-frills plot that leads us at the very end, to wonder why we’re being visited to begin with.
Let’s face it, biological entities of non-Earth origin have probably been nosing around our planet for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years. Even if he was vilified by academics, Erich Von Daniken did raise very interesting questions about historical anomalies that have not been answered. Most of us know what "Roswell" means, in its full inference of a UFO crash, the recovery of alien bodies, and the start of a nefarious government conspiracy to prevent the public from learning about the existence of non-Earth life forms.These life forms should make a point of seeing District 9. This movie leaves cause for both hope and dread, because homo sapiens is both the welcomer and exploiter of change. In District 9, we’re treated to a spectacle of humans actually initiating First Contact. Usually, it’s the other way around. The humans didn’t have much choice in the matter, and here’s where our species gets to demonstrate both enlightened impulses and truly horrific ones. Should biological entities of non-Earth origin initiate contact with humanity? Are we ready for it?
If aliens were to watch all the movies we’ve made about them, they’d be pardoned for thinking we’re a violent, xenophobic species whose first impulse upon meeting an extraterrestrial is to either shoot or eviscerate them on sight. A small minority of films have made a serious attempt to demythologize ET’s status as boogeyman, most notably Close Encounters of the Third Kind. But, for the most part, we’re exposed to cheesy bombastic fare such as Independence Day or the superior War of the Worlds. However, both films summarize what our collective feelings are about aliens – we’re inimical to each other because we fear being displaced as the center of cosmic creation. In movies, the onus of violent impulse is always on the alien. But it’s more complicated in District 9, which is a refreshing wind in the science fiction film genre.
There are firm convictions within the UFOology community about First Contact. It occurred in the 1950s between a small group of aliens and President Eisenhower. It appeared to go smoothly (well, no one died.) But if one digs deeper into the subject, we’re apt to find that extraterrestrials are not a monolithic block of gray-skinned, slitted-eyed creatures. There are different aliens, and there are thousands of alien civilizations "out there." And Planet Earth has been quarantined by them. That’s correct, we have been fenced off, and all alien civilizations have been warned that they may eavesdrop, but not interfere in homo sapiens’ evolution into either enlightened beings who will one day join the cosmic community, or troglodytes who’ll reduce their planet to a hydrocarbon-emissioned hell overflowing with plastic bags. Most alien civilizations believe the troglodyte scenario is more probable, which is why Planet Earth’s in a time out.
If an alien viewed District 9, the human stereotype of the xenophobic loon will be reinforced, but also that we do have noble impulses. We’re not immune to them. We can overcome our trigger-happiness. Perhaps the lesson to be found in this low-budget sleeper hit is that we want to see someone from our own species rise above the occasion in a very human way, and through very human fears.
So there’s hope that one day, the aliens will lift the quarantine. But, to all non-human biological entities of non-earth origin either walking on our planet, or thinking of hovering over an unsuspecting Midwestern town: If you decide to initiate First Contact, know the risks when dealing with a species that just spent a million years fighting its way up the food chain. Please make sure your flying saucer’s in working order, and don’t end up in a fix like your cousins in District 9.
For more information about this film, reviews and insights, go to: