Having finally got around to Elysium, one point in particular bears emphasis: There’s only one interesting character in the movie, and she’s a neoreactionary heroine. That’s not a matter of ideological preference. Among the tiny number of characters who might imaginably be thought to know what they’re doing, Secretary of Defense Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster) is the only one to be treated with the slightest seriousness.
There’s a potentially intriguing snakehead gangster (‘Spider’ played by Wagner Moura), but he loses all credibility by morphing without explanation into Robin Hood. (Note to Hollywood: Snakeheads are not carried by any obvious vector of social interest to become proponents of radically open borders — it’s just possible that Blomkamp is screwing with your mind.)
Soulless capitalist John Carlyle (William Fichtner) is reduced to plot prey, whilst the Elysium Davos-liberal President Patel (Faran Tahrir) is nothing beyond a foil for Delacourt. Everyone else in the movie is either a convincing nobody, or an entertaining cartoon.
A quick Elysium synopsis might be in order. By 2154 socialist insanity has long turned the world to shit, in all the ways that anyone with functioning sensory organs already observes happening today. A teeming mass of incompetent, dysgenically-processed, entropically poly-ethnic criminals now populate the earth, whilst the social elites have retreated to an orbital refuge (Elysium). Naturally, the earth is a squalid, polluted, socially-collapsed, and radically decivilized wasteland, whilst Elysium is a beautiful, functional, productively organized achievement. So far, so obviously realistic.
The earthlings are by now so dim that they don’t even begin to understand why they can’t have good things too. The government of Elysium, in Hollywood /Silicon Valley fashion, can’t help but sympathize (or at least pretend to out of political expediency and social signalling). When Delacourt does her job, therefore, and arranges for Elysium-headed space barges full of “illegals” to be blasted into debris, the government moves to put her on a leash. As a classic neoreactionary, Delacourt quickly understands that defending Elysium will require a regime reboot. (The movie actually uses the word “reboot”, in a far sillier way, for the eventual triumph of the new Cathedral, when the very category of ‘illegality’ is erased from the Elysium computer systems.)
By this point the film has done everything worth doing, and descends unreservedly into ideological slapstick. Delacourt is randomly killed by her own human-rights-violating special operative, in order to clear the last possibility of sanity out of the way. In the end, reliably convincing half-wit thug Max Da Costa (Matt Damon) becomes a stereotypical Hollywood Nu-Jesus by sacrificing himself to obliterate the final remaining fragment of civilization in the name of indiscriminate sharing. Blomkamp has by now completely lost himself in his own hilarity (“quite how stupid can we make this without liberals catching on? Actually, infinitely stupid…”). There’s no reason to get distracted by it here.
Delacourt’s question is the important one: How to maintain the last redoubt of social order, as a spatially-realized system of discrimination, when its own governing elite is fundamentally committed to subverting it? “Do you have children?” she asks the feckless president. He doesn’t even bother to reply. Responsible time-horizons are incompatible with his political office. So she moves forwards with plans for a reboot (which, of course, have to fail — the movie was released and distributed wasn’t it?).
We need to start printing Delacourt’s image on Tee-shirts*, or something. Move over Darth Sidious. She’s the model villain for a rotten world.
*Begin the marketing in Australia?