District Nine

I finally watched District Nine this week and all I could think was holy smokes. I'd heard it was good but nobody told me it's literally gut wrenching and not for those prone to anxiety attacks. District Nine is a science fiction film by Peter Jackson (who did Lord of the Rings and the recent remake of King Kong) about extraterrestrials living in Johannesburg. They've been here for a couple of decades and are living in squalor, in what is essentially a slum. As often happens, a decision is made to relocate the undesirables, who now number 1.8 million.

The aliens are called prawns – not the name they call themselves – instead it's the kind of derogatory name that's been given to immigrants since the dawn of time. They'll do just about anything for cat food, which apparently affects them like catnip does cats, but multiplied by ten. Wikus van de Merwe, who is in charge of the relocation effort, uses this love of cat food to try and weasel the aliens into signing eviction notices before putting them on trucks and sending them to their new "home."

van de Merwe is pretty creepy and doesn't seem to have many qualms about tricking the aliens into giving up their rights or in dismantling the alien's complicated incubator systems. (He makes some nasty jokes after disconnecting what I think were egg sacks and destroying the entire apparatus.) He is cruel to the aliens, clumsy and overbearing to his fellow employees and incompetent but we do see a good side of him when he speaks of his wife, who he deeply loves and who loves him equally. (Maybe this is supposed to make him somewhat sympathetic. I'm not sure.)

He's weirdly concerned with any behavior of the aliens he deems illegal, while breaking laws left and right during the removal. He is thrilled to discover that an alien named Christopher, father of a super cute little boy, has illicit technology in a secret room. He's not so thrilled when something he picks up goes off, spraying him in the face with an unknown substance. When he starts showing signs of illness he blows it off, even when he starts to leak black fluid from his nose. It's not until he begins a troubling transformation that he takes his exposure seriously and starts to panic. The company he works for is elated and goes straight into cover-up and dissect mode.

Meanwhile Christopher the alien is trying desperately to protect his son, who van de Merwe has threatened to give to social services, and has a secret mission he's trying to accomplish. He's been working for twenty years on a plan to assist his race and he's not about to let anything get in the way.

District Nine addresses many social ills including segregation, forced relocation of unwanted peoples, privatized corporations with the power to murder those who get in their way, etc. I find it particularly odd that the Google blurb for the official website says "In DISTRICT 9, non-human refugees confined to a restricted area known as District 9 encounter a government operative that is exposed to their advanced…" Wikus van de Merwe is most definitely not a government agent. He works for Multinational United (MNU), the largest weapons manufacturer in the world. Naturally they have a serious lust for the alien weapons, which is one of the driving forces in this film. The aliens aren't being moved simply because they're a nuisance; MNU wants to exploit their technology. I believe they think once they get the aliens isolated and away from the eyes of human rights groups they’ll be able to really get to work extracting information and equipment.

District Nine had a strong emotional impact on my family. My youngest (who isn’t that young anymore and is now a college freshman) had seen it before and left the room when I put it on as he couldn't bear seeing it again. I had a stomachache and a nerve attack the entire time I was watching. The plight of the aliens is terrible. They live in terrible conditions, picking through garbage looking for junk they can salvage. Sure it's "only a film" but in the real world there are far too many people who are in the same type of situation. Not to mention that forced relocations rarely, if ever, go well. Then of course there's Apartheid, which is what inspired this film in the first place. It all adds up to a great big ball of anxiety and grief.

District Nine was nominated for four Academy Awards, including Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture.

One-Paragraph Review

This week's one-paragraph review is from Sid who wrote in to say, "Are you kidding me with this remake of Skins? It's horribly dumb. Who needs a shot by shot do over? So stupid." Do you have a one-paragraph (or smaller) review you'd like to share? Send it in to me for consideration. You can reach me at feedback@qualitytimeweekly.com.