Wouldn’t it be unique and fun to see a film where life in the future is terrific? Where we (Earth) haven’t been decimated by disease or war? Where the soundtrack of our lives isn’t an over the top doom and gloom score? Do you think your great-great grandparents were as pessimistic about the future as most filmmakers today? Just something to ponder as one sits through yet another “Isn’t life Hell on Earth?” film, which brings me to “Elysium.”
Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, “Elysium” is set in 2154. Earth is unhealthy and overpopulated. Those who can afford to do so have emigrated to Elysium, a man-made space station where food is plentiful, sickness is a thing of the past and, well, life is good.
Max (Matt Damon) lives in a grimy version of Los Angeles, although he has always aspired to go to Elysium, and in flashbacks, we see a young Max making the promise to one day take his childhood girlfriend, Frey, to Elysium. Earth is a police state and free-thinking is not tolerated. Penalties for misbehavior can be severe and the population answers to faceless, robot-sounding superiors. Injured in a run-in with the “police,” Max runs into adult Frey (Alice Braga) in the hospital where she’s now a nurse. They reconnect and Max learns that Frey is a single mother with a child who has leukemia. She fervently hopes to somehow get to Elysium so her daughter can be cured. Protecting entrance to Elysium’s borders is Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster), a government official who enforces anti-immigration laws at all costs, keeping Elysium safe for the rich. A variety of circumstances come together which compel Max to get to Elysium one way or another.
What makes “Elysium” different from other doom and gloom films is its humanity. To some extent, this is due to the actors. Singled out for special praise is William Fichtner as a company owner who holds the fate of many in his hands. He is one of the best character actors in the business and really excels at playing conflicted villains. Alice Braga is also very good as the mother determined to do right by her daughter. But the true heart and soul of the movie is Matt Damon. He’s outstanding at playing the everyman asked to do a little more. With “Elysium” he is as good as the script allows him to be. Surprisingly the one jarring note is Jodie Foster. This two-time Academy Award winner‘s performance is almost robotic in nature and just not very good. Making matters worse is her very peculiar accent.
It’s almost impossible to watch Elysium and not think about America’s immigration policy. Maybe that’s what helps make “Elysium” relatable. Elysium won’t bore you, but it’s not something you’ll think very much about, if at all, once you leave the theatre.