By John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service
"District 9" (TriStar)
is an exceedingly violent yet powerful science fiction parable about the
dangers of prejudice and societal indifference.
Sharlto Copley stars in a scene from the movie "District 9."
Set in an alternate version of
contemporary South Africa two decades after the arrival in Johannesburg of an
unwelcome race of human-size but insect-shaped aliens, director and co-writer
(with Terri Tatchell) Neill Blomkamp's unflinchingly harsh feature debut has
specific applications to the country of his birth—he now lives in Canada—but
far broader implications about human nature in general.
As we learn from a series of
mock-documentary broadcasts and interviews, the extraterrestrials, stranded on
earth by a mechanical problem with their spacecraft, quickly became a source of
social tension since—besides being repulsive by human standards—the
"prawns," as they come to be called derisively, are perceived as
unintelligent and feckless.
So they've been forcibly confined in the
titular ghetto where makeshift shanties and lawless streets recall the
townships of the apartheid era.
Bowing to public pressure to isolate the
visitors even further, the government charges a conglomerate called
Multi-National United with the task of relocating them to a vast concentration
camp. Thanks to family connections, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a
timid, irksome MNU bureaucrat, is placed at the head of this operation. The
only likable thing about Wikus is his idealistic love for his wife, Tania
Backed by MNU's paramilitary forces,
Wikus begins to carry out the technically legal evictions with a dismal
combination of condescension and ruthlessness. But an accident with an
unidentified chemical he finds in one of the shacks suddenly turns him into a
fugitive from the system he previously served.
While on the run, Wikus, whose
experiences as an outcast gradually transform his thinking, allies himself with
an alien who has been given the human name Christopher Johnson (voice of Jason
Besides segregation and colonialism—the
assignment of virtually interchangeable names to the aliens conjures up what it
must have been like for native people to receive unwanted names in their
conquerors' language—the drama can also be seen as a critique of the more
recent problem of South African xenophobia toward migrant workers from other
parts of the continent.
Scenes of the eventual showdown between
some of the aliens and their human oppressors are so graphically bloody that
they would normally warrant an "O" classification, especially in
conjunction with the constant use of the F-word throughout the dialogue.
But for all its grittiness, this tale of
physical and moral metamorphosis—propelled by Copley's intense performance—offers
an incisive study of the need for universal solidarity and a portrait of
marital love that at least some adult viewers may find valuable.
The film contains considerable gory
violence, including brief torture, pervasive rough and some crude language, and
a few sexual references. The USCCB Office for Film & Broadcasting
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
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Mulderig is on the staff of the Office
for Film & Broadcasting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.
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