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District 9 (2009)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

Is the film worth your time?

District 9 finds a compassionate — and violent — angle from which to explore shallow and ugly prejudice. As it pits the supposed goodness and wisdom of “the authorities” against the supposed brainlessness and vulgarity of a suppressed race, it looks into the possibility that, for some, racism may be born more of naïveté than prideful hostility. In doing so, and in contrasting naïveté with familiar and known stereotypical forms of oppression (sometimes too shallowly portrayed), the film can wake us up. Perhaps we are aware that we might yet have vestiges of unthinking racism that we need to eradicate, but perhaps we think too simply and naively about our responses to racism. What do long years of racism do to change the character of an oppressed people? How does it change their assumptions about us and our motives? In what ways do we still blind ourselves, acting in suppression yet believing we act in compassion? Do we really fight “the system”? What will it take to reframe race relations so that compassion is pure and is received that way? If we live for bit inside of District 9’s violence and within the journey of Wikus, the main character, we might have planted in us a seed of the answers to such questions.

Although the film wears its primary historical reference (South Africa’s apartheid) on its sleeve and it paints at times with broad stereotypical strokes, it is District 9’s focus on Wikus’ development that is the center of its power. Wikus is very much a mixed character, yet if we have compassion for his heart and situation, we might see a bit of ourselves in the pressures that shape him. Much of the film is portrayed in documentary fashion, such as an early interview with Wikus in which he describes the relocation project. Other parts of the story and history are told through news reel clips. These add a character of history to the experience of the film, strengthening both its story and the allusions contained in the story. The direction and the lead acting — both by newcomers — are very strong. The special effects are very good, particularly because they fit the character and scale of the story. District 9 is both enjoyable as an action flick and worth seeing, and it is more worth seeing if you enter into the questions that the film is asking.

Wikus Van De Merwe works as an administrator for a government contractor, MNU. He is assigned the task of leading the relocation of 1.8 million non-human aliens from District 9, which has become a dirty and dangerous ghetto in the midst of Johannesburg, to a new district 240 km away. While MNU’s security forces prepare for armed conflict with the aliens, Wikus believes the aliens will understand, be reasonable, and comply with normal legal processes, like eviction notices. Ineffectually, Wikus tries to contain security’s actions. Indeed the aliens, having been confined to and suppressed within District 9 for twenty odd years, do not take kindly to the relocation. Wikus is caught between his desire to treat the aliens with gentle respect, MNU security’s use of force, and the aliens’ violent responses. But this is nothing compared to how caught-in-the-middle he becomes after he’s infected by a bit of alien biotechnology. As he goes on, Wikus must deal with more sides of prejudice and oppression than he ever knew existed. Running time: 112 min.

District 9 is an intense film. It has extended battle sequences, including many people and aliens shot and more than a little gore. Aliens are used for scientific investigation. Strong language throughout.

  • Director: Neill Blomkamp
  • Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
  • Leads: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope, Nathalie Boltt, Sylvaine Strike
  • Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
  • Music: Clinton Shorter

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