Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Film Review District 9

District 9 is that rare film that combines the adventure and edgeof-the-seat drama of a scary sci-fi flick with a telling statement on issues like migration and apartheid. No surprises then that the the film's young debutant director Neill Blomkamp chooses Johannesburg as the setting. Incidentally, he was also born in South Africa and later moved to the US.

When the film begins, you are acquainted with an alien settlement that landed in Johannesburg some 20 years back. Unlike other films on extraterrestrials, there is absolutely no glamour associated with this landing.Their appearance too is deliberately kept ugly. These aliens are icky, insect-like creatures with sinewy waists and pointed hands. They are pushed to the fringes of civilised society by the government, where they live like scavengers in pathetic conditions. The place they are settled in is called District 9.

The aliens possess rare weapons, which is of both interest and dread to the government, but there's a catch.These weapons can only be operated by a person possessing the DNA of an alien.
Even though the rest of the country has grown used to the presence of these aliens and treat them as low lives, referring to them as `prawns', there is always some trouble brewing around them. Hence the government hires a private organisation called MU (Multinational United) to control the growing alien population and relocate them from District 9 to a rural concentration camp.

The person to be given charge for this mass removal is field operator Wikus ( Shartli Copley), a pencil-pushing officer, who gets the job only because of his influential father-in-law. Wikus isn't too good at his job but is earnest in his duties of evicting several aliens.But one such encounter turns out to be unfortunate as Wikus gets infected by a certain alien fluid. In no time he gets violently sick and is horrified when he sees one of his hands turning like an alien. The authorities hurriedly take him to a lab and declare Wikus to be in the incredible `half human, half alien stage'. They see him now as a rare artefact, a specimen who can be used for experiments. Wikus escapes from the lab and what follows is a riveting chase-drama, where he is forced to take refuge in the only place he knows well -- District 9.

Written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell and produced by Peter Jackson (The Lord Of The Rings), the film is a marvel for its technical brilliance and inventiveness. But more impressive is the fact that District 9 goes beyond being just a smart scifi. There are sociological undertones that talk of the cruelty of mankind in general.

Though the film is primarily a comment on the xenophobic, violent attitude of people, District 9 also compels you to look at the problem of migration from the insider's standpoint. The aliens are portrayed as repulsive, with a downright offensive body and speech pattern. They also pose a definite threat since they possess weapons only they can use. How easy is it then to accept them in their fold and be sympathetic? The film becomes a full-fledged action drama in the second half and there are scenes of extreme gore and violence here. Also, the director makes Wikus' chase an excruciatingly painful one, with the police, the MU guys and even a Nigerian underworld boss unleashing terror on him.

Ultimately though, District 9 is an unusual film, a fascinating allegory that any viewer in any part of the world will have something to identify with.

-Sandhya Iyer


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