Monday, July 05, 2010

District 9

Before watching it, I had only a vague notion of what to expect from District 9, and I think that was for the best. I did know that it wasn't a "feel good hit of the summer" kind of movie, and that it was going to cover harsh depictions of harsh subject matter. (I wasn't quite prepared for how much visually gross stuff there was, though, but that didn't bother me much -- it was never even slightly egregious). And I also knew that it was critically acclaimed, in part for achieving so much with a shoestring budget and no major studios backing it, but also just because it was a well-made film.

There's not a lot one can say about the movie without spoilage. This is not the kind of movie where you won't want to be spoiled because of the reveal of some big mystery. However, it's the kind of movie where you simply won't know where the story is going to go, and you'll appreciate it more if you stay that way until you're being taken there. So all I'll say above the break is that it's a very well made movie and well worth watching, but probably don't watch it on a day where you just want some light entertainment. Spoilers below.

I had heard that a lot of the movie draws some sharp parallels to specific incidents in South Africa (which led to the country having some sharp words to say about it), but coming in, I chose intentionally to not look for them, to not think too hard about them, to let the story wash over me as it was. I suppose if I rewatch the movie one day I'll start drawing some parallels. They're not too hard to see -- I read that the slums in the movie were real slums in the Johannesburg area, and the residents were being evicted just like in the film at the time of filming, and some of them were still there during filming. But I felt like watching for those things during the movie would pull me out of the story, so I elected not to.

It's really amazing how the main character changes over the course of the movie without there ever being a step that doesn't seem to happen in a very natural, believable way, in a way that makes you feel like you might do the same if forced into the same situation. It's remarkable how fluidly this happens despite the movie having a lot of other ground to cover along the way. Kudos to both the actor (who, apparently, didn't even intend to be an actor) and the director.

Surprisingly some aspects of the movie seem set up for a sequel that I suspect is not coming. They even give us an excuse for the sequel to be given the otherwise-nonsensical, but obvious, title District 10. Really, the movie just doesn't come across as the kind of movie that would have a sequel. Yet there are some dangling plot threads that point squarely at one -- notably Christopher's claim that he'd be back in three years, and to a lesser extent, the ending's suggestion of Wickus's fate. But there's no indication I've heard that anyone involved is even working on a sequel.

Perhaps that sequel is why the movie sets up the mystery of who the aliens are and then never answers it. It's a howlingly big mystery: an alien ship with technology far beyond ours, yet populated by malnourished, disorganized aliens who seem bent on rooting through trash and squabbling with one another. Is it some kind of prison ship gone wrong? A medical problem that crippled the ship's crew? Were they just playing at being uncivilized, uncouth near-savages? Are they truly a caste-system-like biology and we were seeing a drone or worker caste without its leadership gone amok? So many possible answers, and it feels like this is not the kind of question where the answer wouldn't matter so they don't distract us from the real story by dwelling on it -- it seems entirely germane to the question of Christopher's plan, and what was really going on all along.

That mystery being teased and then left unanswered is the only thing I found unsatisfying. Otherwise, I felt the story held together, and more than that, sustained something that's hard to do in a movie like this -- I almost never could see where it was going next. About the only part you could see coming was in the middle, where recovering the fluid required a break-in (and I guessed it would be more "frontal assault" than "heist") and you could glimpse that this might be leading towards a resolution. (And yet, it didn't really lead towards that resolution. And yet, it did. And yet, it didn't. This movie never lets you take much of anything for granted.)

Speaking of that break-in scene, tomorrow when I get to work, I'm amending our security policy to say that we suspend accounts and change passwords not just when an employee leaves, but also, any time he becomes a human/alien hybrid. (Better throw in zombie, cyborg, and vampire, just to be sure.) You'd think MNU would have thought to have that in their policy. I bet their IT manager gets a stern talking-to.

No comments: