Social fiction is the term I just made up to describe the type of genre “District 9” falls into; the science fiction movie that is not just robots fighting each other, time travel, or space racing. No, this genre is about social commentary while using the medium of science fiction to showcase it; hence social fiction. Movies included in this genre include “2001: A Space Odyssey”, “Planet of the Apes”, “Gattaca”, and arguably “Avatar” and “The Matrix”. “District 9” is the sort of movie that doesn’t stick with you after it is over because of dazzling visuals or popcorn entertainment, but it stays because of the idea that it portrays.
Opening with plenty of pseudo documentary footage explaining the premise, “District 9” shows us how an alien ship landing in Johannesburg South Africa, without the ability to take off again, affects the lifestyle of the citizens, and how the humans deal with the situation over the years. The humans basically treat the aliens so badly it brings segregation of colored people to memory and even the holocaust when the humans kill a lot of them while sticking them in a camp especially for aliens, District 9. Since the humans are fed up with the aliens, they order them to relocate over to district 10 and the person chosen to serve the eviction notices is a man named Wikus, whose mannerisms show us a kind and outgoing spirit, but who deep inside is as bigoted and prejudiced as every human that has had enough of these aliens. He uses the derogatory term “Prawn” to refer to an alien which mirrors the terms used today to describe colored people.
I applaud the film for giving us a main character that is unlikable to begin with. It is something very hard to do because an audience usually doesn’t want to follow the “Bad Guy” around for most of the movie, and yet Wikus, for the purposes of this review, is the bad guy. I’m not big on giving away information about the plot of a movie because I have found out that I tend to like a film more when I haven’t seen the trailer than when I have, but everyone watching the movie will probably work out that Wikus isn’t the same man by the end of the film, his views have changed, and he develops sympathy for the aliens (or rather empathy).
Even though the film is primarily a statement on racism and bigotry, that isn’t to say that it doesn’t have its share of robot fights, explosions, and alien gunfire but they are all done out of necessity to the plot rather out of hungry eyes. The effects utilized to create the aforementioned action scenes are convincing and very gritty; the spaceship looks rusty and old and the aliens themselves look like giant cockroaches. After you watch this movie can you guess the budget of the film judging solely on what you see? Obviously that is a rhetorical question since I would only ask it if it was either very high or very low. 30 million, for those of you who don’t know that much about film marketing and economics, is nothing for a science fiction blockbuster like this one and yet it pulled it off very well even managing to get a nomination for an academy award for best visual effects. To put things into perspective, “The Social Network” which didn’t have any special effects, cost about 40 million to make. Now that is impressive if you think about it.
A few things I didn’t like about the film the first time I saw it turned me around the second time. Ironically though the one thing that annoyed me slightly was something I actually enjoyed the first time around; the excessive pseudo documentary footage. It can get a bit tedious at times but after a while you get used to it. So overall my enjoyment of the movie remains the same: This is a fantastic story about xenophobia with great effects and plenty more to like. Make sure to watch it with an open mind and an empty stomach though, because the themes are quite strong and the “Schindler’s List” type violence might be quite hard to swallow.
9/10 (Fitting Right?)
But what about you? What other science fiction movies do you think bare a lot of social commentary? Click here to cast your vote.