Wednesday 21 August 2013


It is easy to like Matt Damon. It is not easy to like Elysium. At least not for me. It is however easy to exemplify what I dislike about the film. With regular intervals there are shots in slow motion of children laughing and running from the camera, while glancing back towards it. This is a sentimental trick that I have always found cheap and cheesy and the fact that Elysium is filled with these shots is a sign of the big problem I had with it. Nothing in it felt sincere or genuine, but like somebody had used a computer program to construct a science fiction film, and then left it to the software to direct it. It showed desperately little evidence of craft and artistry. At one point during a fight sequence there was an overhead shot, showing the ground from a high altitude, that was so short that it was not possible to see what it was meant to show, and neither was in sync with the general editing patterns of that sequence, when the heroes attack the villain Carlyle after they have shot down his space craft. It was just completely random and pointless, like so many other shots and ideas in the film.

Towards the end of Elysium Matt Damon's character Max, his childhood friend Frey, her daughter and three evil men are all in a space craft together flying to Elysium (a "paradise" in space) to which they all want to go, albeit for different reasons. Just as they are about to land they all start to fight, a hand grenade goes off and they violently crash (although nobody is killed). What was the purpose of this? Nobody in the space craft had anything to gain from such a fight or from a crash, so why would they start this fight? And what narrative purpose did it serve? It had no effect on the story. The most evil of the men, Krüger, had his face completely disfigured, well, destroyed, but he was soon resurrected by the healing machines that are common on Elysium. It is not a question of "plot holes" but of bad filmmaking, or laziness, an example of the sense of drift and randomness to the film. This is particularly a problem in a film like Elysium, that clearly aims to be political and serious and consequently should be made with more care. It matters less in a film like Pacific Rim, which is considerably more playful and fun and which I thought was more profound with its idea of "the drift", a wonderful version of love.

What about the ending of Elysium? The world in the film is polluted and filthy, and society has collapsed. Those with the means to do so have escaped to the man-made paradise called Elysium. The rest has to stay on the toxic earth. But in the end everybody is made a legal citizen of Elysium thanks to the heroism of Max. But how is this going to change anything? They cannot all live up there, and earth is still a filthy and unhealthy place to live on. If anything this end result will only make things worse because everybody will try to get to Elysium and it will be ruined too. So nobody is better off. Is that what the filmmakers intended or do they think that they have given the film a happy ending? Our world, here and now, have innumerable problems and conflicts and Elysium might have wanted to address them in a meaningful or nuanced way but it failed on that level too. Up in Elysium they all spoke French. Is that because Americans think the French are all elitist snobs, what with their wine-drinking, love-making and philosophing? Tell that to those who live in the banlieues. And what is one to make of the fact that the leaders in the dystopian future is a woman and a South Asian man and that the world can only be saved by a burly, all-American, white man? Is that what we call progress these days?

I would not mind these things so much if the film had been made with some wit, charm and visual panache. Alas, there was nothing of that. So no, I did not like Elysium, not at all.

This post is written as part of a focus on Elysium among a number of Swedish film bloggers. Here are links to the others. One is in English, The Velvet Café. The others are in Swedish Rörliga bilder och ord, Jojjenito, Fripps filmrevyer, Fiffis filmtajm, Movies - Noir.