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ON FAITH & MEDIA View Comments

Elysium

By
John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service


Jose Pablo Cantillo and Matt Damon star in a scene from the movie "Elysium."
Back in 2009, South Africa-born writer-director Neill Blomkamp made quite a stir in Hollywood with his low-budget, high-box office science fiction film "District 9."

Penned in collaboration with Terri Tatchell, the movie used its human characters' interaction with an invading race of unpleasant-looking, insectlike extraterrestrials as a prism through which to examine topics like racism, colonialism, apartheid and xenophobia.

Similarly serious aims underlie Blomkamp's latest project (this one scripted solo), the dystopian action picture "Elysium" (TriStar). In crafting what might be termed a thinking person's shoot-'em-up, Blomkamp envisions a future society with numerous -- and uncomfortable -- analogous ties to our own.

Though obviously well-intentioned --viewers of faith will sympathize with the narrative's point of view on a range of subjects -- the resulting parable is also laden with harsh vocabulary and visuals. As such, it's suitable only for stalwart grown-ups.

Considered aesthetically, moreover, caricature and oversimplification weaken the impact of the film's implicit messages concerning such contemporary ills as the plight of immigrants, restricted access to health care and the unequal division of resources.

Familiar social and environmental blights have run rampant in the mid-22nd-century world of "Elysium." So much so that the Los Angeles in which its protagonist, an industrial laborer named Max (Matt Damon), ekes out his existence is one vast ruined slum peopled by demoralized and oppressed drones.

Since similar conditions prevail across the despoiled globe, the rich have retreated to the idyllic satellite from which the movie takes its title. There they live a life of ease -- and enjoy miraculous medical technology not shared with their underlings on the home planet.

After a workplace accident exposes him to a lethal dose of radiation, Max is desperate to reach this orbiting world of privilege where he knows he can be healed.

In exchange for passage there, he agrees to undertake a perilous spying mission for underground guerilla leader Spider (Wagner Moura). A master of high-tech innovation and a dabbler in all sorts of illegal activities, Spider has the necessary resources to smuggle Max aloft.

Since the secrets Max is out to steal have the potential to undermine the whole system protecting Elysium's way of life, his assignment brings him into conflict with one of the habitat's top leaders, ruthless Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Jodie Foster).

Up to her neck in high-stakes political intrigue, Delacourt also has personal reasons for wanting to stop Max. And she has just the man for the job: a brutal mercenary called Kruger (Sharlto Copley). As Delacourt's long-standing secret agent on Earth, Kruger specializes in keeping the downtrodden in line -- by any means necessary.

Flashbacks to childhood reveal that the orphaned Max was befriended and nurtured by a deeply sympathetic nun (Yolanda Abbud L.) -- a figure whose portrayal Catholic moviegoers in particular will appreciate.

She serves as Max's steady moral compass, though she's not a guide on whom he always relies. But the lack of balance or shading among other representative characters means that "Elysium" succeeds more as a suspenseful adventure than as anything of deeper significance.

The film contains much gory violence, some gruesome images, a few uses of profanity, considerable rough and crude language and several obscene gestures. The Catholic News Service classification is L -- limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R -- restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.

*****
John Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.



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Junipero Serra: In 1776, when the American Revolution was beginning in the east, another part of the future United States was being born in California. That year a gray-robed Franciscan founded Mission San Juan Capistrano, now famous for its annually returning swallows. San Juan was the seventh of nine missions established under the direction of this indomitable Spaniard. 
<p>Born on Spain’s island of Mallorca, Serra entered the Franciscan Order, taking the name of St. Francis’ childlike companion, Brother Juniper. Until he was 35, he spent most of his time in the classroom—first as a student of theology and then as a professor. He also became famous for his preaching. Suddenly he gave it all up and followed the yearning that had begun years before when he heard about the missionary work of St. Francis Solanus in South America. Junipero’s desire was to convert native peoples in the New World. </p><p>Arriving by ship at Vera Cruz, Mexico, he and a companion walked the 250 miles to Mexico City. On the way Junipero’s left leg became infected by an insect bite and would remain a cross—sometimes life-threatening—for the rest of his life. For 18 years he worked in central Mexico and in the Baja Peninsula. He became president of the missions there. </p><p>Enter politics: the threat of a Russian invasion south from Alaska. Charles III of Spain ordered an expedition to beat Russia to the territory. So the last two <i>conquistadors</i>—one military, one spiritual—began their quest. José de Galvez persuaded Junipero to set out with him for present-day Monterey, California. The first mission founded after the 900-mile journey north was San Diego (1769). That year a shortage of food almost canceled the expedition. Vowing to stay with the local people, Junipero and another friar began a novena in preparation for St. Joseph’s day, March 19, the scheduled day of departure. On that day, the relief ship arrived. </p><p>Other missions followed: Monterey/Carmel (1770); San Antonio and San Gabriel (1771); San Luís Obispo (1772); San Francisco and San Juan Capistrano (1776); Santa Clara (1777); San Buenaventura (1782). Twelve more were founded after Serra’s death. </p><p>Junipero made the long trip to Mexico City to settle great differences with the military commander. He arrived at the point of death. The outcome was substantially what Junipero sought: the famous “Regulation” protecting the Indians and the missions. It was the basis for the first significant legislation in California, a “Bill of Rights” for Native Americans. </p><p>Because the Native Americans were living a nonhuman life from the Spanish point of view, the friars were made their legal guardians. The Native Americans were kept at the mission after Baptism lest they be corrupted in their former haunts—a move that has brought cries of “injustice” from some moderns. </p><p>Junipero’s missionary life was a long battle with cold and hunger, with unsympathetic military commanders and even with danger of death from non-Christian native peoples. Through it all his unquenchable zeal was fed by prayer each night, often from midnight till dawn. He baptized over 6,000 people and confirmed 5,000. His travels would have circled the globe. He brought the Native Americans not only the gift of faith but also a decent standard of living. He won their love, as witnessed especially by their grief at his death. He is buried at Mission San Carlo Borromeo, Carmel, and was beatified in 1988.</p> American Catholic Blog God is great. God is good. And God, in his fatherly love, has a plan for our lives that will work out for our benefit and salvation. All we have to do is trust and obey.

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CATHOLIC GREETINGS
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