IN Elysium, South African director Neill Blomkamp's bleak vision of a dystopian future where the world is divided into the haves and have-nots, life on earth means only one thing: poverty and suffering, followed by a forgettable death. Meanwhile, the privileged members of society live a disease- and pollution-free existence in a luxury community hovering high above the Earth: Elysium is a Utopian pie in the sky (literally) that the hordes below can only dream about.
A ticket to Elysium is what everyone wants but nobody gets, because security is uncompromisingly strict and brutally enforced by a robot police force, commanded with grim efficiency by the tight-lipped Secretary of Defense (Jodie Foster). For good measure, she also employs the services of an enforcer on Earth named Kruger (Sharlto Copley), who gets his kicks by terminating humans with extreme prejudice.
Blomkamp made an impressive big-screen debut with District 9 (2009), a sci-fi flick about extraterrestrials being given the illegal-alien treatment on Earth. His latest film has a similarly raw look and feel to it as it paints an equally depressing portrait of segregation and the socio-economic divide, where in the year 2154 the world is a giant slum and Elysium is the place where rich folks reside. This paradise on (or over) Earth is - in Singapore property terms - districts 9, 10 and 11 rolled into one.
Awash in marble floors and well-manicured lawns, the neo-classical villas depicted in the movie wouldn't look too out of place in some posh areas of modern-day Singapore.
The primary character in Elysium is Max Da Costa (Matt Damon), an ex-con with a dead-end job and an unrequited crush on his childhood playmate Frey (Alice Braga). Max has served jail time and taken the rap while working for Spider (Wagner Moura), a shifty-eyed people-smuggler with computer skills who transports illegals seeking a better life (or merely life itself) up to Elysium, where homes are thoughtfully furnished with wellness machines that can cure any illness.
Max has a thankless job at the local factory, manufacturing robots for the company that invented the high-tech operating system that Elysium runs on.
After he's exposed to a lethal dose of radiation, he's desperate to get to Elysium, where his problem will be fixed. So he strikes a deal with Spider to pull off a data heist - access information from a rich guy's personal info bank - in return for a trip to you know where.
The robbery goes horribly wrong and Max ends up with the data lodged in his brain, pursued by heavies and fighting to stay in one piece (regrettably, not everyone gets to do so). Of course, the information is worth a lot more than he thinks. Max spends most of the second half of the movie on the run from assorted heavies, and the odds on his survival are not good.
On a certain level, Elysium works as an entertaining (if violent) morality tale. It's a little preachy but Damon is as good a leading man as any, especially when engaged in harnessing the forces of good against the bad guys. With a ubiquitous screen presence these days, he - and the character he plays here - has the whole world in his hands. And that's a pretty good place to be.