22.9.09

District 9

Peter Bradshaw is on point over here. District 9 is great as a sci-fi action film, but it's rather half-boiled as a satire on racism. My own reasons for dissatisfaction are more mundane, however.

This is rather pedantic of me, but a plot-hole got in the way of me fully engaging with the film. The alien refugees have lots of weapons that only they can use. The humans (both white and black) are desperate to crack their technology. In trying to do so, they oppress and abuse the aliens. The thing is, in this situation, the aliens are the ones who have the advantage. Why don't they use their weapons to fight back?

The only way to resolve this is to say that they are aliens. They don't think like we do. And indeed, the film is chiefly concerned with showing us just how brutal and disgusting humanity is. Its behaviour is contrasted with the loving, and surprisingly moving, relationship between an alien and his son. The image of the alien city hovering above Johannesburg hammers home this contrast. We have a scummy earthly city, and a sleek heavenly utopia above it. The aliens just want to get from the one to the other.

Our hero bridges this divide. He is transformed from a clueless, self-serving (and mass-murdering) human into an alien who dies for his friend. But that moment of conversion, the pivot on which the film turns, is strangely flat. I didn't feel it.

Why is a difficult question. I think part of it is how cliche the scene is. But I wonder whether the cliche would have worked if the relationship between our hero and the alien was more developed. If, during their alliance of mutual need, a measure of warmness and sympathy creeped in.

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