Neill Blomkamp rocketed out of his native South Africa in 2011 with a stunning film that went on to be nominated for Best Picture, District 9. He’s back in a film Movie Fanatic was also blown away by, as stated in our Elysium review.
The film’s title comes from the root of his story about a society in 2154 that finds the earth barely inhabitable. So, the super wealthy have left it to reside on a space ship where every corner feels like Beverly Hills. There is no poverty, no war and they have the medical technology to cure absolutely anything.
Movie Fanatic was curious how the name Elysium arose. Blomkamp could have named his orbiting paradise anything. "It's meant to be a metaphor. The idea is it's like a gated community,” he said. The idea emanated close to home. “In South Africa, they have these really cheesy names for gated communities, so it's like Eden, the gated community, right? And that was the idea was Elysium. It was a satire of that."
Besides being a lifelong fan, Blomkamp believes that science fiction is a terrific way to address the issues of our day, while people are still being entertained.
"In [science fiction], we’re basically addressing big questions -- which are much more interesting in storytelling. In the case of Elysium, the core question really is with limited resources and much too many people on Earth, what are you going to do? Like are you going to hang onto it when the (expletive) hits the fan or are you going to give it away? And by giving it away, you're actually being altruistic and you're actually giving it to someone else,” Blomkamp said.
“You're helping someone else, so is there right and wrong? Evolution doesn't care. It's not going to help you out. It's meant to pose questions rather than have messages, but I think good sci-fi does that. It sort of leaves you like, 'Hmmm, interesting.'"
As the Elysium trailer shows, the film takes place in Los Angeles. For many who live here, the L.A. of Blomkamp’s world feels more like an international third world country. That was pointedly on purpose.
"The film is about wealth discrepancy. It just has this powder-keg rich and poor situation. What is cool is showing a North American audience what it feels like to be on the other side of the Mexican border, or looking up in this case at Elysium -- it's the same thing as looking over the fence,” Blomkamp admitted.
“That's why sci-fi is kind of cool if you can get that right where it's like, 'Oh, it's Matt Damon. We're in America, everything is good.' But then you realize, 'Oh, we're actually on the other side of the fence now.' That's why I thought L.A.”
What is also so fascinating about Elysium is that even though the orbiting locale is meant to be paradise, basic human nature cannot be squelched.
"That's the core of the movie! I believe that all of that is an extension of the human race. It's an extension of our genetics,” Blomkamp said.
“Evolution makes us do that. The difference now is we've created societies and interlinked ourselves where great wealth is possible. So the rich are the rich today and the rich are the rich on Elysium because they're doing what they're genetically encoded to do. All we do is the same (expletive) we're doing since we were cavemen and we're going to do it until we genetically change ourselves or kill ourselves or invent robots that take over, that just put an end to the madness -- so that's why on Elysium, you have to have greed and power and it has to be there."
If one gets the impression that Blomkamp is out to change the world, actually… you’d be wrong. He doesn’t see his medium as capable of doing that.
"That's the problem with a two hour multiplex format is you can't get into that stuff. It's why I think films don't really change anything is because they don't have the intellectual horsepower to change anything, because you have to fit it into two hours,” he admitted.
But, all he is asking is for people to leave the theaters and think. Sci-fi films can address our ills, and maybe not change them for the better… but at least put them on the radar. Some of the films that made him who he is today did exactly that for Blomkamp.
"A lot of my favorite films in that genre, like Terminator 2: Judgement Day, it is about nuclear holocaust. That's like a (expletive) insane ride of a film. But, it's about something,” he said.
“And there's many of them that you can look at that are like that -- Robocop, Alien and Aliens and later on, Blade Runner. But that's all I'm trying to do is be in that zone of something that gives you both things.”
Elysium is a perfect companion piece to District 9 and that is for a specific reason.
“Making this, I was in the same mindset as District 9. It has lots of the same fiber as like class warfare. As I finished District 9, I started to write Elysium. I wrote a different draft which is quite different. That was the version I gave to Eminem. I wanted a lower-budget, different wilder version of it, and it never felt right,” Blomkamp said.
“Like something was just bothering me. Then I came up with this idea that the wealth has gone to a physical place that you can stand on, that's made of metal, and it's covered in pools. When that clicked, I instantly knew I wanted to make it.”