“District 9” (2009). Cast: Sharlto Copley, David James, Jason Cope, Mandla Gaduka, Vanessa Haywood. Director: Neill Blomkamp. Screenplay: Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell.
As humans, we often like to think of ourselves as a supremely compassionate, hospitable species. But is this always true? It’s a theory put to the test in the new sci-fi thriller, “District 9.”
When an enormous alien mothership appears over Johannesburg in an alternate version of 1981, it raises many questions: Why here and not a more significant world capital, like Washington or Moscow? Why are there no such ships over other cities? And what is the intent behind its unexplained presence? Is it merely observing us, or is it preparing for something more nefarious, like an invasion?
After a long time with no explanation, a team is sent to the ship to investigate. Once inside, they find it filled with a huge crew of emaciated insect-like beings who belong to their society’s worker class. Their ship, apparently, is damaged, which caused it to drift into earth’s air space. Their wish is simply to go home, but given the ship’s condition and the fact that its largely undereducated inhabitants are unable to repair it, they’re stuck.
South African authorities, in a seemingly sincere act of compassion (remember, this is initially set in the time of apartheid), agree to help the aliens. However, over time, the local residents grow leery of the off-planet refugees, placing ever-greater restrictions on them until the aliens (“prawns,” or “bottom feeders,” as they’re derogatorily called) are corralled into District 9, an urban resettlement camp similar to the infamous shantytown ghettoes symbolic of the country’s official apartheid policy. But, eventually, even this level of segregation doesn’t go far enough for the locals; they want the prawns completely removed from Johannesburg. Thus begins the process of evicting the aliens from District 9 and moving them to a new camp far outside the city, an undertaking headed by a newly promoted mid-level apparatchik, Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley).
Wikus seems like an affable, sympathetic guy, though he takes his job seriously, thoroughly committed to the by-the-book procedures he’s called upon to execute. When confronted with alien resistance, for example, he doesn’t hesitate to engage in friendly coercion or to willingly turn a blind eye to his support crew’s brutal enforcement tactics. That all changes, however, when an incident occurs that suddenly places Wikus in the shoes of those he’s charged with evicting. In a matter of hours, the once-petty bureaucrat begins to transform, becoming a champion for those who have no one to speak for them. With the aid of a prawn named Christopher, Wikus embarks on an entirely new initiative, one that draws the wrath of the powers that be against the aliens – and him.
In many respects, “District 9” is not typical sci-fi fare; it’s more than just a special effects extravaganza with an oversimplified good vs. evil narrative. The film is a morality play on our humanity, particularly how we treat those less fortunate than us (and, accordingly, what we get back for our actions). The reality before the humans’ eyes thus becomes a mirror of the intents they put out (a key concept in understanding the functioning of conscious creation/law of attraction principles). In this sense, is it no surprise, then, that brutality is often met with … brutality?
The movie also examines how we can become more than who we are (or, more importantly, how we can become more than who we believe we are). Through Wikus’s actions, we see how we can rise above our own limitations – if we choose to – to become different people. These actions, in turn, elicit different responses from others, reactions that mirror the changes Wikus implements of his own accord. So, in this way, it should come as no surprise how Wikus’s heroism and compassion evoke comparable reactions from others, ultimately enabling both him – and Christopher – to unreservedly become more human than human.
“District 9” is a knock-out on many fronts. Besides its excellent technical effects, Copley’s superb performance and the aforementioned thoughtful narrative, the picture’s unusual filming style – told largely through simulated news reports and staged after-the-fact interviews intercut with the main story – is innovative and refreshing. To be sure, the film is not for sensitive viewers, due to its graphic violence, but, if viewed in context, such action effectively (and necessarily) lends itself to the character of the picture.
The next time we’re tempted to congratulate ourselves for our humanity, we should pause and think about this film. In these days of myriad social challenges, when we sometimes fall short of doing all we can, even for our own species, how would we respond to those with tremendous needs far different from our own? It’s something to contemplate if we truly wish to label ourselves “human.”
A lifelong movie fan and longtime student of metaphysics, free-lance writer/editor Brent Marchant is the author of Get the Picture: Conscious Creation Goes to the Movies (Moment Point Press, www.momentpoint.com). His additional writing credits include contributions to beliefnet.com and to Divine Revolution and Reality Change magazines. Brent also maintains an ongoing blog about metaphysical cinema at www.getthepicturebrentmarchant.blogspot.com. He holds a B.A. in magazine journalism from Syracuse University and resides in Chicago. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.