Aug 16, 2009

Can't We All Just Get Along?

District 9. It is I watched. It's also a movie I'm having trouble writing about. I've been staring at the monitor for well over 40 minutes now with nothing but the words District 9 on the screen, so bear with me.

District 9 leaves me very much on the fence. This sentiment will eventually change (and I feel the pull toward the positive side), but my problem lays in how...alien it all was. It's a familiar film, yet entirely new. The mockumentary style feels like it's been done to death, but it works really well here. However, it still feels like this style of film hasn't been perfected. It's still very much experimental, therefore, doesn't feel like a finished product. But at the same time, I can't quite put my finger on how to resolve it. The same problems arise in a biopic that is dramatized yet heavily references stock footage. The stock footage (the real footage) tends to take you out of the reality of the film. At some point, District 9 needed to stop being documented. And to some extent it did, but it didn't feel confident about this decision.

With District 9, some things worked and others didn't. It feels like a Catch-22. The mockumentary aspect worked...except when it didn't. The action (namely in the third act) went on too long and was your average popcorn fare, yet the movie needed more action. It's like a recipe that you followed to the letter but the meal still doesn't come out right. What variable is missing?

I loved the shifting sympathies in the film. You start out really liking Wikus van der Merwe and detest the disgusting, bottom-feeding prawn. Wikus and his armed goons are sent to District 9, the camps outside of Johannesburg where the aliens live, to serve them all eviction notices. The aliens are to be relocated some 20 miles outside of the city. So they go around confiscating weapons and evicting alien residents, fining them on unfair grounds, shoving rifles into their faces. Yet the prawn never once raise arms at the humans. The only thing they use these weapons for (weapons humans can't operate) is as tender; they trade Nigerian gangsters the guns for food. They don't seem very dangerous. And they love cat food! How menacing! You spend a good while remaining neutral until introduced to the alien named, presumable by humans, Christopher Johnson and his son. You instantly cling on to them. You also come to realize that they are the most human element in the film. Their desire to get home, to be free, takes precedence over anything else in the film. Although you follow Wikus, he never quite recaptures your sympathy until the very end. Since he is your main protagonist, I think this also means you never really care about the human race throughout the course of the film. While Wikus' motives are self serving, Christopher's are for the benifit of his entire race. The aliens, the prawn, are never fighting amongst themselves. Bickering sometimes, but they never harm or kill one of their own. They never even harm or kill humans unless provoked past the point of their own safety. They are not invaders. They are a lost people. And they can't go home because they are prisoners living in internment camps and the human government wont allow them to. This isn't too unfamiliar considering we're talking about South Africa under apartheid. Why is it I sympathize with these conditions more when it's an alien race this is happening to? Because I can say "It's only a movie?"

I'm put in a love/hate relationship with District 9 because of the disdain I feel for the human race. The cliché is aliens come to wage war and humanity can unite against a common foe. That isn't present here, of which I'm very grateful, of course! But humans are so stupid and don't learn from their mistakes. There's still war. There's still money in war. A peaceful alien race gets lost, we capture them, enslave them, and exploit them to the fullest. It leaves you wanting those clichés. Send the howling beam from the belly of your mothership and wash away this big blue blemish called Earth. We deserve it.

1 comment:

  1. You liked Wikus at the beginning?

    We don't deserve to be blown to smithereens. Or at least I don't deserve to be.