“Would you like a pill?”
In a world broken by disease, hunger and lack of resources, it seems that attempted solutions are often token in nature. The above quote, taken from Neill Blomkamp’s highly anticipated sci-fi actioner, Elysium, is an illustration of a lack of consideration towards those who suffer. Spoken by a disinterested parole robot, the offer of a pill to sooth ex-con Max Da Costa’s (Matt Damon) nerves serves as a metaphor for a much deeper attitude that exists within the world.
Set in the 2154, Elysium reveals a world divided by financial barriers. While the wealthy enjoy life on Elysium, a space-station utopia orbiting the earth that offers unlimited resources, the remainder of the population are left to suffer amidst the planet’s rubble and disease. Living amongst the masses, Max is an ex-con who simply wants to make a fresh start with his life. However, after an industrial accident leaves Max with only a few days to live, he realizes that his only manner of survival is to get to Elysium so that he can make use of their health care technology. As a result, Max is forced to revisit a life of crime so that he can earn his ‘ticket’. However, after the assigned ‘job’ goes awry, Max becomes a fugitive and must choose which path his life is going to take moving forward
Clearly influenced by the recent Occupy movement, Elysium begs the question of fairness when it comes to the distribution of resources. As the wealthy maintain their life of luxury orbiting the earth, the demand for proper health care continues to increase amongst the rest (and increasingly restless). Disease is rampant and hospitals are overrun. Violence and crime are everywhere. Still, Blomkamp wants his audience to sympathize with the people rather than sit in judgment of them. Although Elysium’s earth has been ravaged by criminal activity, one recognizes that much of the behavior has been driven out of desperation rather than a desire to do evil. Here, the finger is pointed squarely at the ‘haves’, not the ‘have-nots’.
On the other hand, it’s also interesting to note that the majority of the ‘super-rich’ are not portrayed as particularly evil either. Instead, despite the fact that much of Elysium’s resources are produced on the backs of the rest of humanity, the wealthy merely seem to wish to turn a blind eye to what’s happening below. In other words, in a much more literal interpretation of ‘out of sight, out of mind’, the wealthy appear more concerned about preserving their own way of life rather than intentionally exploit those less fortunate. As a result, the wealthy remain content yet distant from the rest of humanity, ignoring the devastation that lies below.
Without question, this conversation elicits thoughts of Christ’s conversations about care for the less fortunate. Scripture references such as Matthew 25 command to feed and clothe the less fortunate or even Jesus’ seemingly endless healings of the sick and blind point to a much deeper spiritual calling for humanity. From the moment Jesus established the foundation of his Kingdom, He has called for us to live in a manner that brings healing through love rather than further pain and suffering.
Still, the spiritual conversation within Elysium also travels much deeper than a broad plea for social justice and also offers a powerful example of what is meant to take place during a journey of discipleship. One of the best examples of this comes through Max’s story. A low-level employee of Armadyne Corporation, Max’s life seems no different than anyone elses. Simply trying to survive, his life has little purpose or direction. Nevertheless, after he receives his exo-skelton and attempts his first ‘job’, things change dramatically. [MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD] After understanding the importance of his newly stolen ‘cargo’, Max begins to understand the impact that his life could have on the rest of the world. [SPOILERS END] In fact, in a fascinating Scriptural connection, Max’s associate even tells Max that he holds “the keys to the Kingdom”. Using this analogy, this direct reference to Matthew 16:19 suggests that Max suddenly has the ability to ‘bind and loose on earth and heaven’, placing a great deal of power and social responsibility upon him. As a result of this realization, Max’s journey begins to be reshaped as he wrestles with the questions of calling and personal responsibility as he moves forward with his life. Moreover, in drawing this comparison, Blomkamp also reminds the viewer that much of the responsibility for change lies on the viewer himself. Are we willing to help create change? Do we recognize that our lives have meaning in the world? In the same manner that Jesus calls for justice in His Kingdom, he also commands us to be active participants in what He wants to happen.
In the end, Elysium certainly delivers in the area of sci-fi action. However, director Neill Blomkamp also offers an intense—but grounded—metaphor for the damage that is left by selfishness and greed. In moments such as these, Elysium connects very deeply with the heart of Jesus and his Kingdom. Whereas Elysium speaks of a world divided by suffering, we are reminded that Christ invites us to a world healed by wholeness. As such, Elysium challenges us to decide whether we will seek to be an advocate for change on His behalf or remain silent.
After all, through Christ, we have the power to “override their whole system”.
Starring Matt Damon, Jodie Foster, Sharlto Copley
Directed by Neill Blomkamp
Rating: **** (out of 5)