District 9 is the best movie I've seen all year, and not one that I thought would make me cry. It didn't but it put me right on the verge of tears.
Law is a manipulation of conscience. It is the contrivance of third parties to do your just thinking for you. It never appears as such a contrivance so clearly as when it is abused or inept. This is not the central premise of District 9, but it is clearly indicated.
District 9 does a very good job of leaving the parallels intact as well as taking this South African story beyond the context of Apartheid. It is the story of Wikus Van Der Merwe a bureaucrat of the fictional MNU, the NGO which is charged with the care of the alien species that has descended into Johannesburg. For 20 years, the film tells us, all human social work, diplomacy and alien rights management has failed to do anything for the 'Prawn' alien race now numbering about 2 million who occupy District 9. This district itself is a slum, filmed in one of the current or former townships of Apartheid South Africa. Wikus, a young do-gooder has been selected by one of the hierarchs of MNU to be in charge of the biggest program in their history of administering the aliens, which is to evict them from their current lodgings to a relocation camp further outside of the city of Johannesburg. But he's in for the surprise of his life.
The movie describes the aliens to be disorganized, like worker bees without a queen. As such they are singularly unable to organize any resistance and do little but scavenge. They are exploited in all the typical ways by Nigerians who are the only humans who live inside District 9, but also and obviously by MNU, as Wikes clearly demonstrates as he follows the law. This law allows MNU to destroy the alien nests - to basically abort fetal aliens that grow like maggots, external to the alien bodies, in cow carcasses. Wikes describes the popping sounds of the eggs as he orders the torching of such a nest.
In the course of his bureaucratic duty, dressed in a flack jacket and under military escort, Wikus directs his doucmentary cameraman (from whose POV we are watching), to capture this activity. He finds weapons, a strange chemistry set, young aliens, and all other sorts of illegal activity and contraband. On such a journey he is spritzed with a strange liquid as seen in the widely available previews of the movie.
The largest secret, even unknown to Van der Merwe but not to his father in law who gave him the relocation assignment, is that there has been an MNU program to genetically experiment on the aliens and humans so that humans can operate the alien weapons which require the alien DNA. Through a series of accidents and collusions Wikes winds up being the first ever human to grow an alien arm. He is forced to use this arm to fire the alien weapons to great success, and before his body is to be dissected and donated to science (and billons of dollar of corporate and government research) he escapes. And, as you might expect, he must now survive within District 9 amongst the aliens whom only yesterday were wards of his state apparatus.
It is altogether too easy to shoot the barrelfish of the liberal bureaucracy of the MNU which stands as an apt metaphor for the UN and its humanitarian efforts. It is rather for we the living to recognize exactly how liberty must translate for a sentient species which is incoherently disorganized and in our midst. I find myself driven to understand the conditions under which the alien ship was sent to Earth. And while the film didn't speculate, it was clear to me that these were exiles and outcasts, prisoners perhaps. For any civilization that could accomplish interstellar travel would clearly not send their best and brightest to live in a township in South Africa, which was obviously selected for its cultural and legal ability to have a strict bipolar society.
District 10 has to be made. It simply must. The story is far too compelling for the implications not to be taken up. The difficulty presents itself in regard to the origins of this film. The collaboration between Peter Jackson and South African director Neill Blomkamp began as the combination who would make the Halo movie. As anyone with half a wit could tell you, the Halo franchise has elephantine legs, but also enough legal brambles to trip a herd. Blompkamp has an extraordinary gift for directing the sort of chaotic action of battle, but he has also created and mastered the human / alien / technology interaction in live action heretofore only achievable in videogames. Blomkamp is the director who now owns the neorealism of this emergent genre of sci-fi. And surely this is why Jackson has taken him under his wing and is now going in a different direction. The old master of the Lord of the Rings is stepping down to do Tin Tin, which is great and cool and whatnot, but Blomkamp is now the shortlisted dOOd for pwnage movies.
Except that Spielberg is rumored to have an interest in Halo, which could be a shame. Because Blomkamp has made the most emotionally resonant battle robot in the history of film. The alien robot suit in District 9 was so fluid and responsive that you could feel the man inside it dying through the increasingly pathetic stumbling of the machine itself. And it is not coincidental that it was a kickass battle droid only for the moments that it was controlled exteriorly by the kid alien. So yeah I want Blomkamp to be involved with the Halo movies because I know he has the right eye for the action, but we all need Spielberg to do this and wrest control of the franchise from the legal sharks at Microsoft.
In the meantime, District 9 is an extraordinarily good and morally resonant story and a kewl movie to boot. Bravo to Blomkamp. We want more.