District 9 is basically a war movie wrapped in a science fiction movie. And I don’t particularly like war movies or science fiction. So that could explain why I’m so conflicted about this flick.
The movie is an allegory for all sorts of things: xenophobia, apartheid, civil unrest, race relations, government agencies run amuck, internment camps… You name it, and there’s probably a character or underlying theme that aims to show how the atrocities of the past (and some might argue, the present) are doomed to be repeated if we can’t all learn to “just get along.”
The plot unfolds in mock-documentary fashion, with interviews, news footage and surveillance video tracing the arrival and settlement of more than a million malnourished aliens whose ship gets stranded over Johannesburg, South Africa. A couple of decades go by and the resident humans have run out of patience with their odd-looking neighbors. They want the aliens forcibly transferred from one ghetto/refugee camp (“District 9”) to another (“District 10”) on the far outskirts of town.
The resettlement effort is outsourced to a government contractor, Multi-National United (MNU). Loyal and hapless MNU bureaucrat Wikus van der Merwe (played by South African actor Sharlto Copley) ventures into District 9 to serve the eviction notices and ends up getting infected by an alien liquid that turns his arm into an alien appendage. Not good – especially since unbeknownst to him, MNU has been conducting secret tests on the aliens in hopes of figuring out how to use (and profit from) some cool weapons that only work in the ‘hands’ of aliens. Wikus ends up on the run, hiding out in – where else? – District 9 and joining forces with one of the very aliens he had tried to evict.
I’m glad that producer Peter “Lord of the Rings” Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp went with virtual unknowns in the leads, because that helps keep the docu-vibe relatively real (considering the outlandish premise). Overall, District 9 is an interesting movie that raises a lot of questions about human nature, morality, friendship, and physical and ethical boundaries. It’s based to some degree on historical events that took place in a very real “district 6” in South Africa during apartheid. I can appreciate allegory, but I don’t think it’s really fair to equate fellow humans with odd, creepy-looking, cat-food-loving aliens. Or am I over-thinking it? Could be.
So, do I recommend this movie? Sure, if you like war movies and science fiction. Otherwise, it may not float your boat. And even though it’s rated ‘R’, I think it’s fine for older teens who are into war movies and sci-fi. I’ve seen way more offensive stuff in today’s crop of PG-13 flicks. At least this movie can leave ’em with something to think about.