Fair. Balanced. American.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Roger Ebert on District 9

Funny:
This science-fiction fable, directed by newcomer Neill Blomkamp and produced by Peter (“The Lord of the Rings”) Jackson, takes the form of a mockumentary about van der Merwe’s relocation campaign, his infection by an alien virus, his own refuge in District 9 and his partnership with the only alien who behaves intelligently and reveals, dare we say, human emotions. This alien, named Christopher Johnson — yes, Christopher Johnson — has a secret workspace where he prepares to return to the mothership and help his people.

Much of the plot involves the obsession of the private security firm in learning the secret of the alien weapons, which humans cannot operate. Curiously, none of these weapons seem superior to those of the humans and aren’t used to much effect by the aliens in their own defense. Never mind. After van der Merwe grows a lobster claw in place of a hand, he can operate the weapons, and thus becomes the quarry of both the security company and the Nigerian gangsters, who exploit the aliens by selling them cat food. All of this is presented very seriously.
Then serious:
The film’s South African setting brings up inescapable parallels with its now-defunct apartheid system of racial segregation. Many of them are obvious, such as the action to move a race out of the city and to a remote location. Others will be more pointed in South Africa. The title “District 9” evokes Cape Town’s historic District 6, where Cape Coloureds (as they were called then) owned homes and businesses for many years before being bulldozed out and relocated. The hero’s name, van der Merwe, is not only a common name for Afrikaners, the white South Africans of Dutch descent, but also the name of the protagonist of van der Merwe jokes, of which the point is that the hero is stupid. Nor would it escape a South African ear that the alien language incorporates clicking sounds, just as Bantu, the language of a large group of African apartheid targets.
Then funny:
He movie mentions Nigerian prostitutes servicing the aliens, but wisely refrains from entertaining us with this spectacle.

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