Horror. Worldview. Faith.

District 9 – Review

District 9 – Review

Jan 11, 2010

reviewed by Skot
directed by Neill Blomkamp, 2009

District 9 is proof that you don’t need a ginormous budget or famous faces to put together a terrific movie.  The special effects were stunning.  The unknown main actor deserves to win awards.  And the documentary style utilized by The Blair Witch Project (one of the scariest movies I have ever seen), Cloverfield, and Quarantine was effective.  Not only did I enjoy it, but it has also reaffirmed my faith in the sci-fi and horror genres as sources of meaningful story telling.  Many people would classify it as science fiction because it has space aliens and freaky technology.  But I think of it mostly as a horror flick because it has. . . well, some pretty horrible stuff.  Of course, many movies are a combination of both genres like Frankenstein and David Cronenberg’s The Fly.  In particular, District 9 engages in something critics call body horror, but I don’t want to say too much. This summer’s Transformers picture may be science fiction too but let’s face it, it’s little more than two hours of robots hitting each other.  Not that there’s anything wrong with that.  I love a good robot rumble.  But occasionally, I like for movies to make me think.

There is some pretty obvious social commentary in D-9’s portrayal of apartheid redux, it being set in South Africa and all.  Think of the spacemen as metaphors for any oppressed group.  Consider racism.  Because natural law tells us it is wrong to brutalize other human beings, a racist convinces himself that the “other” is somehow sub-human, less human than himself, which thus releases his conscience, though never fully, to treat the “other” with disrespect or worse.

Like all good horror, District 9 forces you to think further about what it means to be a human being.  This is an extremely important question that, frankly, needs to have more attention paid to it, especially in these days of advancing bio-technology.  We are performing face transplants; swapping body parts, internal or external, with new bits from other people and even animals, replacing human organs with machinery.  Now add cloning experimentation, genetic manipulation and nano-creation and we’ll have all forms of chimera to consider in days to come.  Soon if not sooner.

Scary stories always have to have a monster.  But what is that?  A monster is usually an entity whose essence is ambiguous.  In other words, a man is not a monster, even if he’s a bad person.  And a dog is not a bad animal.  But a half-man/half-dog?  That is a scary monster.  When the essence and identity of a being is ambiguous, it instills a sense of repulsion in us.  Darth Vader is scary not because he dresses in black.  Some of my favorite people dress exclusively in black.  He is scary because we can’t tell how much of him is human and how much is machine.  His essential identity is ambiguous.  Metamorphosis is prominent theme.  Now I ask you, go see D-9 and then tell me who the monsters are.  Is the protagonist more of a human being at the beginning or at the end?  So what makes someone a human being?  His exterior or something else?  While I agree that beauty is more than skin deep, it troubles me somewhat to suggest that one’s humanity is completely unrelated to his corporeality.

On to the theme of Good vs. Evil.  There is value, to be sure, in stories that clearly demarcate the goodies from the baddies.  This is especially for the moral education of children.  Fantasies often do this well.  The Lord of the Rings is more like a fairy tale in this way, a comparison which J.R.R. Tolkien would consider a compliment.  In that beautiful epic, there is no ambiguity, except in the occasional marginal figure like Gollum.  The lines between good and evil are clearly demarcated.

Fairy tales serve an important function and can benefit adults as well as kids.  An adult reader/viewer can also appreciate moral complexity, situations where it is not easy to tell who the baddies are.  This more closely resembles human life on earth the way we presently experience it.  Bad people do good things.  Good people are sometimes bad.

Be warned; this is a graphically gory movie.  Lots of splatter yuck.  Stay away if you like your combat scenes to be no muss, no fuss.

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