DISTRICT 9

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Overall Impression – A thrilling, in-the-moment sci-fi that never lets up.  Topical, fantastic and stylish.  This one’s a winner.

THE FOUR QUESTIONS

Who’s your main character? – Wikus Van De Merwe.

What’s he trying to accomplish? – Professional: evade his corrupt father-in-law (and pretty much everyone else on Earth) and find a way to reverse his transformation into an alien.  Personal: get back to his wife.  Private: get over his prejudice against the aliens.

Who’s trying to stop him? – His father-in-law, hired mercenaries, thugs within the alien camp, and himself.

What happens if he fails? – Wikus will be captured, killed and used by the military to utilize the alien weaponry, and the aliens will never escape Earth.

THE FOUR ARCHETYPES

Orphan – When Wikus gets infected by a mysterious fluid created by the aliens, he starts to transform into one of them!  Neither human nor alien, he becomes outlawed not just from his wife, but from humanity itself.

Wanderer – Wikus goes on the run from his father-in-law, who seeks to use Wikus’ evolving DNA to utilize alien weaponry.  Realizing that the only place he can hide is the alien concentration camp, Wikus learns to live as a refugee, and soon meets Christopher, who created the fluid responsible for Wikus’ transformation.  Christopher needs that very same fluid to re-power the alien space ship so his people can escape Earth.  Wikus realizes that he can help Christopher retrieve the fluid capsule from his father-in-law.  If they succeed, Christopher vows to use his ship’s resources to return Wikus to his human self.

Warrior – Wikus fights the local thugs to procure some alien weapons, and he and Christopher fight their way into his father-in-law’s compound to find the fluid.  They must now survive long enough to return to the camp and deliver the fluid to the alien ship, fending off not only commandos hired by Wikus’ father-in-law, but the thugs of the concentration camp as well.  Throughout this, Wikus must battle his own prejudices against the aliens, whom he has hated for so long.

Martyr –Wikus realizes this mission isn’t just about him – an entire species’ survival is on the line.  He stops thinking selfishly and is willing to give his life to ensure that Christopher reaches the ship, using an alien battle suit to single-handedly hold off the bad guys.

AND, IN THE END…

This is one of the most grounded sci-fi movies I’ve ever seen, and it wasn’t just the documentary style that brought it down to Earth (so to speak).  The locales, subject matter, themes… even the aliens themselves presented something that felt too familiar for this story to be deemed outlandish.  Without doubt, these stylistic and thematic similarities to your everyday tragic news story contributed to District 9’s grip on this viewer.

There are too many elements of the movie that I’d like to talk about, so I’ll just pick one: Wickus as a sympathetic character.  At the beginning of the story, Wikus is a dim-witted, cruel, prejudiced, weak-willed man, so much so that I couldn’t wait until he inevitably got what he deserved.  Not exactly sympathetic! His only saving grace is that he truly loves his wife, who becomes the lifeline Wikus clings to over the course of the movie.  And that’s enough.  That link to his wife is all Wikus needs to drive his action, and was enough for me to root for him.

Basically, District 9 illustrates that, even if there are ten reasons to hate the main character, as long as you have one genuine reason to sympathize with them, then it’s enough to get the audience rooting.  Besides, what Wikus suffers through is so horrific that I’d feel sorry if it were happening to Darth Maul.

– Dan Pilditch

One Response to “DISTRICT 9”

  1. Tracey Conwell October 11, 2009 at 9:24 am #

    I loved the movie and thought not only was it riveting as an action thriller but it had more significant underpinnings than typical for that kind of big, gory sci-fi flick. It seems to me that one very important element in what makes this movie work is the universality of the movie’s theme about the error of pitting us against them, that is, the error of ‘alienation’, which is here portrayed literally as an alien nation. The documentary style used in the beginning is even more believable because of the setting in South Africa, the home of apartheid, one of this century’s more blatantly appalling cases of this phenomenon. With the heavy Afrikaner accents and the Soweto setting of the alien ghetto, the satire about apartheid is successful even if it is a bit heavy-handed. But the message goes beyond South Africa and becomes a morality play about the proclivities of humankind. And, hey, with a morality play it is ok to be a little obvious, isn’t it? You want the message to take hold. And take hold is exactly what this one did: it grabbed me in the gut early on and didn’t let up until long after I left. The movie succeeded in marrying the nausea and revulsion evoked by its imagery with the underlying message about disenfranchising an entire population of ‘others.’ So when I left feeling gutted and completely enervated, I realized that the pit in my stomach was greater than the grip of the gore, it was also the sickening sense of seeing in my society and perhaps even myself the same revolting hole in the soul.

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