Do you not just hate rich people? Man, rich people. It would just figure that they would come up with the secret to immortality, wait until the Earth is completely screwed with disease and pollution, and then bounce to outer space. This clichéd hypothetical is the premise of today’s film, Elysium (2013). It is so strange to me that Hollywood would make a film like this one since, if this were to go from science fiction to science fact, they would be among the first ones aboard the title space station, toasting champagne with their poolside caviar while their home planet rots below. Actually, there was a lot about this movie that I did not understand, so join me in my puzzling out of the various scattered pieces of this story.
As alluded to in the introduction, Elysium is a paradise space station created in the late twenty-first century so that the wealthy could maintain their “culture,” while us working stiffs died. If you can picture those old commercials with Sally Struthers wandering around a third world country telling you how for pennies a day you can feed a sick child, that is apparently what the entire Earth quickly becomes. It is the world into which orphans Max Da Costa (Maxwell Perry Cotton) and Frey (Valentina Giron) are raised by nuns. They become close as children, with Max vowing one day to take Frey to Elysium. Well, they grow up and at some point in the cut away Max (Matt Damon) loses track of Frey (Alice Braga). Max apparently has a few run-ins with the law along the way, but is trying to turn his life around. He has a job but still lives in the same mean circumstances as the rest of the Earth’s denizens. Like others, he dreams of making it to Elysium. There is one way of getting there, though it involves a lot of risk. A crime boss named Spider (Wagner Moura) runs illegal flights to space. Most of those willing to brave potentially being blown up are those with incurable infirmities that on Elysium are fixed with the push of a button. The person willing to do whatever it takes, including bending the laws, to protect their precious sanctum is Defense Secretary Jessica Delacourt (Jodie Foster). Without a second thought, she orders illegal shuttles attempting to land on the station to be fired at with missiles despite getting in trouble with leadership. None of this is of importance to Max at the moment. On his way to work to one morning, he is harassed by the same robot police that he is paid to build, and one of them ends up breaking his arm. This lands him in the hospital where is reunited with Frey, who is now a nurse. They make plans to get coffee the next day (though where this is supposed to happen, I have not the foggiest idea), but Max is prevented from coming when an accident at work leads to him being exposed to a lethal dose of radiation. The robot doctors give a few pills, tell him he will die in five days, and send him home. Cheerful, no? He is helped into his house by his best friend, Julio (Diego Luna). The following morning, determined that he is not going to die, Max and Julio head to Spider. In exchange for Max returning to a life of crime in Spider’s employ, Max wants passage to Elysium to get cured. Because Max is in a weakened state due to the radiation poisoning, Spider has his people graft a metal exoskeleton to Max’s body. They do this so that he can perform a heist as part of the deal for his passage. They are to waylay John Carlyle (William Fichtner), whose company Armadyne designed and built Elysium. Once they do so, they can download his brain somehow, which contains information that can unlock the space station. Everything goes according to plan up until the point that Carlyle is shot and killed, and Secretary Delacourt’s mercenaries arrive, led by Agent M. Kruger (Sharlto Copley). Whatever it is that happens here (I am still not sure), it leads to the necessary data being lodged in Max’s brain. With Julio and the others killed by Agent Kruger and his men, Max is wounded and on the run. He ends up finding Frey, who is also attempting to nurse her daughter Matilda (Emma Tremblay) who has leukemia. In exchange for her help, Frey asks Max that he take them get to Elysium to save Matilda. He refuses because he does not think it possible, and instead makes his way to Spider. Yet, he quickly realizes the value of the information he carries in his head, which could be used to reset Elysium, and decides he must go there sooner. To do so, he allows Agent Kruger to find him, though he is dismayed to find Frey and Matilda already inside their shuttle. His grenade that he uses to get on the craft gets them only so far before the mercenaries, for some reason, decide to start messing around and the grenade goes off, causing them to crash into the posh surface of Elysium. Eventually, everyone is rounded up and brought to Secretary Delacourt, who orders that the much sought-after information be download from Max’s brain even though it will kill him. As this goes on, Agent Kruger is given an exoskeleton like Max’s, and Spider managers to board the station. The exoskeleton seems to cause Against Kruger to go nuts (or more nuts), and he murders Secretary Delacourt before going after Max. With Spider’s help, after taking care of Agent Kruger, Max makes it to a computer where the information is used to turn all the citizens of Earth into residents of Elysium. This makes it so that Matilda can have her leukemia treated. The last scene is of aid shuttles being send from Elysium to help the citizens of Earth.
When you see promotional material for Elysium, it is always of Max in his exoskeleton. This seems to also magically cure his radiation sickness. Admittedly, this is partially conjecture on my part. Yet, after it gets bolted to his bones, he goes from barely able to walk to having superhuman strength. The only other reference to his ailment is him taking, at a random moment during the climax, a handful of the pills he had been given after his exposure to his radiation. What I will commend Max on, though, as a Catholic reviewer is his commitment to sacrificing himself for the good of Matilda and the rest of the people of Earth. At the same time, I am not sure why downloading his brain means he has to die, but his courage to make that selfless act should be noted. He spends the majority of the film looking out only for himself. Now, I know this is an often-repeated theme in reviews done by The Legionnaire, but seldom are the stakes as high as they are in this film. Many times, you see characters do this sort of thing on a personal level for someone with whom they are familiar. Here, Max is laying down his life for all of humanity. Jesus did this, of course, and it is the nun that watched after him as a child that told him he was destined to do something great. What I wonder is if knowing the stakes involved makes the decision to go through with such an act easier. God’s hand was on His only Son in the moment of His passion, and I would like to think that it would be with someone in Max’s shoes. I am thankful that I have never had to face a similar decision.
As I mentioned in the last paragraph, the theme of sacrifice in Elysium is hardly unique. It makes the film somewhat more tolerable than most, but also eminently forgettable. This, coupled with the fact that I did not understand some of the particulars, means that I do not recommend it. If none of this stops you, you can find it currently on Netflix.