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District 9

John Mulderig
Source: Catholic News Service

Sharlto Copley stars in a scene from the movie "District 9."
"District 9" (TriStar) is an exceedingly violent yet powerful science fiction parable about the dangers of prejudice and societal indifference.
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 (Vanessa Haywood).
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 Cope).
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 guardian.
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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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