22 September 2009

District 9 busts the myth of good and evil

This year, from an unexpected quarter of the world, comes a film that takes head-on, and then shatters, the myth of good and evil. That film is District 9 and it comes from South Africa. What’s more surprising is that District 9 is a sci-fi thriller that deals with aliens on Earth; but, interestingly, steers clear away from the United States (the favourite invasion ground among aliens) to take its roots in, and over, Johannesburg.

District 9’s director, Neill Blomkamp, adopts an ingenious news broadcast-like technique to tell us the story, jumping cuts and cameras and viewpoints here and there to give his film-viewers the feeling that everything is happening in real-time. If that isn’t enough, Blomkamp keeps the adrenalin flowing with suspense, action and an incredible skill in storytelling.

Early on, in the mid-eighties, we learn that a huge alien spaceship arrives over Johannesburg and becomes immobile, perhaps due to a technical fault. A mission, when sent up to the spaceship, finds a huge population of weak and undernourished aliens, and rescues them by bringing them back on Earth. These aliens, which look like large prawns on land and are given that nomenclature by humans, are quarantined in a colony of their own just outside Johannesburg. This colony is District 9.

Twenty years later, with a total failure in integration between the humans and the prawns, matters come to a head between the two populations, and the South African government decides to relocate the prawns farther away from Johannesburg. It enlists the services of a large multinational company, MNU, which is also the second-largest weapons manufacturer in the world. When MNU forces, led by a mild-mannered Wikus van de Merwe (played by South African actor Sharlto Copely), enter District 9 to inform the prawns about their forced relocation and serve them eviction notices, things get out of hand.

During the operation, Wikus becomes accidentally infected by a mysterious alien fluid from a canister which he confiscates from a prawn. A genetic metamorphosis sets in in Wikus, and he slowly, and then rapidly, begins to turn into a prawn. When his metamorphosis comes to the MNU’s notice, MNU jumps at the unexpected opportunity of using a part-human-part-prawn to learn how to use prawn weaponry which they were, so far, unable to do as the weapons are genetically coded to prawn bio-technology.

As MNU scientists and doctors prepare to cut him open for medical experiments, Wikus escapes from MNU’s grasp and is then on the run as a fugitive. Rejected by his own people (including his wife) as a freak, Wikus hides in District 9 and ends up befriending a prawn leader when the prawn leader suggests that it can reverse Wikus’ metamorphosis if it could go back up to the spaceship hovering above Johannesburg. To make this possible, says the prawn, it requires the mysterious fluid in the canister which is in MNU possession. So, the two of them attempt to get that mysterious fluid back from MNU headquarters.

Scorched by Wikus’ daring mission to attack MNU headquarters and escape again, MNU soldiers step up their chase. Wanted alive for his unique bio-technological importance, Wikus is now hunted not only by the MNU, but also by the Nigerian mafia ruling District 9. The Nigerians believe that if they eat Wikus’ flesh, his alien powers will be transferred onto them. So begins a hunt for Wikus… right until the gruesome end of the film.

Although disturbing to watch and, in places, heart-wrenchingly emotional, this is where District 9 excels. Director Blomkamp turns the concept of good and evil on its head, showing us the predatory nature of humans and the greed that resides within us. The viewers of District 9 end up believing that being human is, perhaps, not such a good thing after all.


Jigar said...

You have increased my curiosity even further! And sadly, it is not running in any cinema-hall in chennai. Alas!

runawaysun said...

'District 9' is an outstanding film. You must find a way to see it.

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