The worst fears of many in the United States—that Mexicans and assorted other Latinos will invade “us” and threaten “our way of life”—have become true in 2154 in this dystopian/Utopian science fiction from the director of District 9, also a movie about barely metaphorized borders and aliens. Los Angeles has become an immense barrio in ruins where everybody speaks Spanish, including Anglo Max (Matt Damon), who has learned it from a nun and his childhood sweetheart. The resulting dystopian city looks like a mixture of Middle East war-wrecked towns and Blade Runner and has become unlivable for worthy citizens. No problem, though: the mother of all gated communities has been set up in outer space, a gigantic ship reminiscent of the futuristic artifacts of 2001 where the wealthy have retreated with their high technology, their well-groomed gardens (no Mexican gardeners in sight, though) and their personalized healing beds. These happy few curiously tend to speak French, seem to do nothing but have parties, sip drinks and splash about in their pristine swimming pools, and are ruled by a highly technologized political system, designed to protect them from those they have left behind. Of course, they still exploit the masses of poor underprivileged on Earth, while keeping them out of Elysium through a not-so-sophisticated border system. In case this dystopian set-up is not familiar enough, some people, represented by ruthless Delacourt (Jodie Foster, also proficient at French), are not satisfied with the political correctness of those in charge towards earthlings and want a tougher immigration system to defend their hard-earned privileges. I don’t want to disclose the ending, but the outcome of her greed for power is something no immigrant-friendly legislation, no sympathetic Obama or no California Dream Act can even begin to envisage.
This is fiction and it doesn’t need to provide realistic solutions, yet it might have settled for some semblance of plot. While the first half hour of so, in which the world and, specifically, Los Angeles and Elysium, are visually and narratively articulated, is powerful, spectacular and enthralling, the filmmakers appear to run out of ideas too soon, substituting endless and rather tedious fights, chases and assorted noise for a story with characters and events. Maybe this is because such a future is hard to imagine beyond the initial idea, and maybe the spectators ought to be grateful for at least a movie in which Latino Los Angeles is finally visible. Once we go beyond the initial impression, however, we begin to realize that while the outward look and sound of the city is definitely Latino, this “brave new world” remains very much in the background. Not only do characters with speaking parts predictably switch to English after the first few minutes, but, apart from Mexican Diego Luna, playing Max’s best friend Julio, none of the the other important characters, even in the “nether world” are Spanish speaking or have Spanish names (interestingly, two of the most important characters are played by Brazilian actors). It is as if Mexicans are vastly predominant in this fictional world but the movie decides to focus on the exceptions. Still, this is definitely a multi-cultural LA, and even the ruler of Elysium is played by a non-Anglo Angeleno. Shame the filmmakers cannot imagine a prosperous city once it has been “taken over” by those coming from the South. Still, I can’t wait to see what happens in Elysium Part 2.