The genius of District 9 (and that is the only word that can be used to describe writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s perfect film) is how it chooses to tell the story.
Rarely is a movie capable of being imaginative, intelligent, exciting, thought-provoking and incredibly entertaining. District 9, however, is all of these things, and though it will be relegated to the science-fiction genre, it in fact transcends any classification because of how expertly it blends a variety of styles. It is no more merely a sci-fi movie because it has aliens than Seabiscuit is a western because it has a horse.
The genius of District 9 (and that is the only word that can be used to describe writer/director Neill Blomkamp’s perfect film) is how it chooses to tell the story. For the first half of the film we are switching back and forth between a documentary style, complete with personal interviews and a straightforward narrative. What is so amazing is how seamlessly Blomkamp moves from one to the other, thereby allowing the form of narrative to best tell the story. There are no gimmicks in the film because Blomkamp inherently knows which style will best convey the feeling and emotions he wants to convey in any scene.
The real creativity of the film shines through the intricate back story that is given as the plot unfolds. Twenty years ago an alien spaceship comes to a complete stop directly over Johannesburg, South Africa. People around the world expect the worst: an attack, invasion, destruction. But for three months, nothing happens. When the South African government is finally able to break into the ship, they find that the aliens are all dying of starvation and their ship has ceased working. The aliens are unloaded from the ship and quarantined in a makeshift holding center called District 9.
As we catch up to the present, we meet Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an employee of Multi-National United (MNU), a private organization put in charge of the alien population. Van De Merwe is chosen to deliver some rather unsettling news to the inhabitants of District 9: They are being evicted and relocated to a much less accommodating location several hundred kilometers away. While sweeping the shanties, Van De Merwe comes into contact with an alien substance which begins to drastically and quickly change his DNA, turning him into a target of MNU.
District 9 is not a big-budget Hollywood blockbuster. It was filmed on location with hardly anyone in the industry knowing what was going on. The film began to garner attention when the rather clever marketing campaign was unleashed around the country and Peter Jackson’s name was attached as a producer. Every conceivable detail in the history of humans’ encounters with these creatures must have been mapped out over the course of several months. There are so many wonderful intricacies throughout the film that are never focused on yet add a feeling of reality and plausibility to the story.
Blomkamp isn’t content with simply making mindless entertainment, though. Having been born and raised in South Africa, he has used District 9 as a distressing allegory for the apartheid that tore his country apart for so many years. On another level, there are clear comparisons that can be made to the original 1951 The Day the Earth Stood Still where the extraterrestrials weren’t the bad guys at all; the bad guys were the humans with their arrogance and fear of anything different. Here too we see aliens who do not wish any harm to the human race yet are treated cruelly and inhumanely. District 9 isn’t so much a critique of human nature as simply a reflection of the types of behavior typical of the span of human history. If another life form ever did make contact with our planet, there is a good chance that the reactions on the evening news would be similar to those seen in District 9. | Matthew F. Newlin