This movie is very unusual in that Adam didn’t like it while I actually did. Usually, if there’s any movie-disliking going on, it’s me not liking the movie while Adam kind of does. I can understand his point—if you go into District 9 expecting to be entertained in the usual style of a summer action movie, you’re not going to get much out of it. If you’re looking for your standard tale of people overcoming their differences and prejudices, you’re going to find District 9 impenetrable. Because this is not a movie about aliens and humans or even something as straightforward as racism.
It’s a movie about South Africa. Or, rather, the underlying problems that make places like South Africa what they are. It would be equally applicable in any similar place.
What District 9 does is to take a story any American would find nearly as familiar as their own bed—strangers slapped together by circumstances and forced to work together to accomplish a common goal—and uses it as a platform to rip the lid off of Hell and show it to you in a way you can actually understand. They even tell you outright the purpose of the movie very early on. The alien space ship, they say, could have stopped in New York or Tokyo or Moscow or any other famous city, but it wound up in Johannesburg. And then the fun started.
Even the style of the movie, presenting the events as newscasts and documentary footage with interviews of various distant participants mimics the only way most Westerners ever get news about Africa. Through this mechanism and the revelation of actual events, it goes on to show just how distorted, random, and ineffectual that news coverage is. Everything in the movie follows this same scheme. The brutality and callousness of all the characters, without exclusion, delivers the impression of staring into a completely foreign world where solutions for problems are the vain dreaming of distant madmen. It’s never explained why the many parties behave as strangely as they do. Counter-productive behavior isn’t an aberration here. It’s the rule.
And at the end, while there are words of hope, they are more a conceit of dreamers than anything that can really be reached or grasped. A fog of questions that will never be answered descends, leaving only one impression.
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