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Review - District 9

As most people know, the best science fiction isn't really about the science or the fiction. Great science fiction uses these to tell a story, a human story. The Time Machine, The Day the Earth Stood Still (Original), and even the more recent Minority Report all try to tell us something about ourselves.

District 9 directed by Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter Jackson is really really good science fiction. Ostensibly District 9 is about the plight of a large group of aliens who have become stranded on Earth in Johannesburg, South Africa. Marooned for twenty years and confined to slums, the locals are fed up with their presence. The decision is made to relocate the 1.8 million aliens, derisively called "prawns" for the appearance and designation as bottom feeders, to a camp some 200 kilometers away from the city. Our protagonist Wikus van der Merwe works for MNU, a soulless multinational corporate behemoth, and is charged with the eviction and relocation of the 1.8 million "prawns."

In fact, what District 9 is really about is that when a particular group has been sufficiently dehumanized, being a cog in the machine of evil is rather easy. Of course, most of those cogs do not realize that they are participating in a massive and grave evil. The aliens are forced to live in deplorable garbage ridden slums infested with many predators of the human kind. Nigerians who terrorize and scam them, a public which scorns them, and a corporation frustrated by its inability to exploit them. The aliens, you see, have very advanced weaponry but it can only be used by the aliens themselves. Since they are of little use to anyone, MNU and our protagonist laugh as they abort dozens of growing eggs. Later when the MNU and its military component are annoyed by a small child alien one of the soldiers makes as if to shoot him only to be stopped by Wikus saying "No you can't shoot him now, he is too big. It is against the law. That's why you have to abort them"

Wikus (brilliantly portrayed by newcomer Sharlto Copley) is an ambitious bureaucrat who goes about his job happily evicting the aliens to what amounts to a concentration camp. However, a mishap along the way begins to transform him into something else. This something else makes him a target of exploitation (and murder) by MNU and the Nigerian thugs who plague the camps. In desperation he must turn to an alien for help. It is through this journey that he realizes the "humanity" of the aliens and ultimately his own humanity as well.

Obviously, being set in South Africa, the parallels to apartheid are clear. But that is much too simple an understanding. It goes beyond that and helps us to understand how simple evil really is when any group is sufficiently dehumanized and people are just doing their jobs. District 9 does all this while telling a rocking good and often humorous story.

District 9, while very violent and with pervasive foul language, is one of the best science fiction films I have seen and most likely one of the best movies of the year.

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J said...

I just recently saw the movie The Island ... it is honestly one of the most horrifying movies I've ever seen, and I mean that in a good way. It's science fiction as well, and basically takes embryonic stem cell research/human cloning to its logical extreme.

I definitely recommend it:
[link has spoilers]

Anonymous said...

J, Peter Benchley's "The Island" is far better. And it features Roy Scheider mowing down pirates with a .50 cal!

matthew archbold said...

I read one review which said it's an allegory for apartheid 20 years too late. And then dismissed it. After I saw it I couldn't help but think how badly that reviewer missed the point of the movie. The movie is about dehumanization and that occurs every day everywhere. It's a brilliant movie.

Caroline said...

For all you movie buffs,
An Online Novena begins today at


We will be praying for actors and all those involved the movie business. Drop by and say a prayer.

Paul, just this guy, you know? said...

I'd been wondering about this movie; thanks for the review!

Karen Sence said...

Such interesting look into racism, slavery and the workings of the government all mashed into one...I definitely recommend this movie..!!

Dirtdartwife said...

Thanks for the review! I, too, was thinking of seeing the movie (or at least waiting for Netflix). Now I look forward to it.

Anonymous said...

Sort of like the "aliens" in the womb.

Our Heroine said...

I'm so glad I wandered over here today and read your review. I saw it yesterday afternoon and hated it! I was so peeved I came home a wrote a scathing review on my blog. I did notice that the aliens had been dehumanized, but I thought the movie never made the case about what they were and how they thought. At one point, in a newscast, a scientist says they were insect drones that had lost their queen. Now, I guess you saw that as a parallel with how the media uses the word, "fetus" versus "baby" and I don't disagree, but there were SO MANY unanswered questions for me about the Prawns, that I couldn't buy the immediate "they should be treated like people" argument until well into the movie, when you saw how Christopher Johnson and his son thought and acted, and then it was obvious that they were "human" in spirit, but then I different questions like the world just left the whole species to fend for themselves in South Africa? Really? That seemed unlikely.

Anonymous said...

I saw the movie and I liked very much for what it was. As M Archbald said, it's quite an allegory to apartheid but it certainly does go beyond that.

As Heroine said, there were many unanswered questions the writers did not address. Perhaps whether for artistic reasons or for the sake of brevity, it is what it is.

I don't think a sequel can be made of this movie. I'd like to see Johnson come back and save Wikus like he said, and to see his father in-law die a horrible death but that's just the movie fan in me. :) The wife was a nausiating piece of work however.

It would be too trite for a sequel and the story of this movie stands on its own. There can't be any way to add to or improve on it.

I think it does show evil always attracts evil and those who are evil or have the propensity to be evil find their release in evil, especially when it's organized, i.e. Nazis, communists, a neighborhood's local gangs, etc. I think this point was proven when that head field officer said he enjoys killing the "Prawns." That statement said it all.


graciax452 said...

I think it also highlights the issues of xenophobia which are simmering beneath the surface in South Africa's shanty towns at the moment, issues such as foreigners use up resources which should only be for South Africans, get better jobs because they may be better educated or that they are the main cause of crime, basically that foreigners are parasites and cannot be treated with the same respect as insiders. It's not everyone who feels this way but the few who can actually incite the masses at times can be very dangerous. I saw the trailer on Monday and was not sold, but now I want to watch it. Ironically it only premiers in Johannesburg on the 28th... 9 days to go........

Maurisa said...

My husband and I saw the movie based on the review here. I found the story line very intriguing, but the violence, gore, and language were OVER THE TOP! I know Matthew warned of this in his review, but for me, it really detracted from the story and ruined the movie.

Sean Weatherby said...

D-9 definitely has a lot going for it -- character development, great acting a at least a few people, awesome alien weapons; it felt a bit preachy at times at different times though

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