District 9


Have you occasionally watched a sci-fi movie and wondered: “What happens after first contact? What would happen if the aliens didn’t all get wiped out by some virus/have their fleet sent into the sun/turn out to be allergic to water? Then District 9 may be the movie for you.

Have you often wanted to see hundreds of humans explode in hilariously bloody ways? Because District 9 can help you with that, too.

I hate to say much about the movie at all, really — I came into it knowing almost nothing about what it was going to be about, and found the whole experience pretty refreshing. It’s a rare thing to manage that with any movie, but it’s especially rare with a science fiction movie (at least, if you’re a nerd like me it is). So I’ll just comment on completely unrevealing aspects of the film.

Sharlto Copley Is the star of the film, despite having rarely acted before. You wouldn’t know it; Wikus is a deftly created character who appears on the surface to be a cartoonishly stupid bureaucrat, but who slowly reveals layers of insecurities, selfishness, sadism, cowardice and heroism throughout the story. In the end his personal journey from loser to action hero reminded me a lot of Timothy Balme’s Lionel in Peter Jackson’s Brain Dead. I’m not sure if this is the hand of Jackson (the Producer) showing in the film or just me imagining it though.

There’s some very special effects in the film, too. Now that everyone’s proved they can make giant fucking robots do whatever the hell they want, the playing field is levelling out, and the difference between good and bad effects is more clearly than ever all about intelligence, style and creativity, rather than just who has the shiniest computers.1

The one vague concern I had going into the film was that it might be a bit… on the nose. I mean, South Africa, aliens, racism — Captain Subtext was clearly coming for a visit. But the whole thing’s so real, and played with such humanity, that it never bugged me. The history of segregation informs the movie, of course, but they never stoop to some dreadful moment where Wikus’ eyes widen and he realises that aliens are people too, or it’s just like apartheid. At the same time though, the film almost feels racist itself at other times, using as it does a bunch of Nigerians as superstitious crazy evil arms dealers. It seems a bit implausible that anyone in the modern world is really going to buy the “eating the aliens gives us their power” plan, although I can at least admit that if someone on the planet was stupid enough to think such a thing, they would be pretty likely to set up shop in District 9.

There’s a fine line between a good science fiction action movie and a rubbish one. By using a unique and intriguing protagonist, some pretty fresh science fiction tropes, and giving the viewer a tiny peek into a larger world, District 9 makes sure it’s well on the side of the line where you’d find The Terminator and The Matrix.

  1. Well, that’s how it feels from this end, anyhow. For all I know, someones’ invented a computer so insanely intelligent that it can simulate creativity, intelligence and style to within such a small degree that you can’t tell the difference.
I mean, you can't say they don't look like that, that's what they look like, right? They look like prawns. — Police Officer

2 Responses to “District 9”

  1. I don’t think it’s a huge leap from “thinking raping infants cures AIDS” to “eating aliens lets you absorb their power”. The former actually happens in real life, and makes the latter seem extremely plausible.

    Witch Doctors are very much alive and well in Africa

    So, not a fair criticism I feel.

  2. Fair call. I am ignorant of ignorance it seems.

    It just would have been nice to see one more sympathetic Nigerian to balance things out a little.