In the mid-21st century, there is no middle class. The poor live on a polluted and diseased earth, in which jobs are lousy and scarce, and where the police are robots who rough people up at will. And the rich live on a beautiful colony, built on a man-made satellite, Elysium, where the weather is good, houses are mansions, and every disease is instantly curable.
If some time in the future, someone wants to figure out what people in 2013 were worried about, Elysium will be a good place to start.
Its not a monster movie, in which all the terrors of life are rolled up into one big metaphor, nor does it express concerns about current politics or terrorism.
The focus here is on one thing, what might happen if the plutocrats were to get everything they want, a world in which a small minority lives off the hardship and labor of everybody else.
So Elysium is an action movie made for people thinking about something besides things blowing up.
If at times the films connections between todays world and the fantasy world are broadly drawn, an obvious idea is better than no idea at all. Written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, Elysium has a family resemblance to Blomkamps earlier film, District 9, with its mix of a thoroughly realized dystopian future with an underlying social concern.
This is how bad the Earth is in 2154: Matt Damon cant leave the house and walk down the street without someone messing with him.
He plays Max, a former car thief, who lives in a hovel and works in a factory. As he waits at a bus stop one morning, a drone policemen starts questioning him, and a minute later, Max has a broken forearm. He cant take a day off, though no unions. So he goes to work, where he is abused by his foreman.
Later, he meets his parole officer, yet another machine, who wont let him get a word in but does encourage him to take tranquilizers.
So very quickly we get the point. Life on Earth is hardly worth living. Yet all the while, in the sky, a little closer than the moon, is the wheel-shaped paradise, Elysium, which most people will never get to visit.
Jodie Foster plays Mrs. Delacourt, the defense secretary of the Elysium colony, a role which is one of Fosters best showcases in a while, a character who is Fosters complete opposite philosophically a heartless elitist who cares about no one but who yet is in Fosters general zone in terms of temperament.
On Elysium, Delacourt is hatching a political scheme that will thrust her to the center of power. Meanwhile on Earth, a workplace accident makes it necessary for Max to get to Elysium soon, in order to have any hope of cure.
Blomkamp lays out the terms of this world a citizens powerlessness, the unending surveillance so that at all times the audience can feel both the seeming hopelessness of escape, as well as the desperate need to escape.