Instead of wasting copious amounts of time as usual the other day, I decided to watch District Nine. And realized a few minutes into the movie, that it’s pretty much the same thing. So I take it as a personal responsibility to spread this message/review. Some of my friends have observed je ami ei cinema tar daaitto niye pond merechi (that I have responsibly trashed/ass-fucked this movie). But then it is a totally subjective perspective I guess. No apologies.
Two hours and a couple of aspirins later when District 9 ends, you may find yourself speaking in the same clicking Bantu-like lingo that the aliens in the movie spat out. Do not worry. It is a normal post-traumatic reaction many movie-goers are experiencing after watching director Neill Blomkamp’s latest.
This mangled piece of audio-visual entity, being passed off as cinema, has some fundamental defects. One of the biggest flaws is the assumption that the audience has not already seen a respectable range of sci-fi flicks in the past, that include Predator, Terminator and Robocop even (all of which supposedly gave Blomkamp inspiration to come up with District 9). The only similarity with those movies that you are likely to find, is in the appearance of the aliens. And alas, the similarities end there.
A weird looking mother ship (not that mother ships are, or maybe pretty) hovers over 1938s Johannesburg. Reports follow that the ship is stranded and soon a military team breaks in to discover a bunch of aliens. No explanations are given as to where the ship came from or why it had to stall bang on top of a region with apartheid history. Strangely enough, the ship does not seem to have fuel or capacity to land but has enough power to keep levitating for many years over a single spot: there are more things in heaven or earth than are dreamt of in the audience’s imagination. Perhaps. And besides, who are we to judge the dynamics of an alien mother ships engine?
These arthropod-like aliens are given shelter in District 9 by the South African government. Some heartless souls with no kindness at all in their systems may vehemently question the move of giving land to a group of ugly extra-terrestrials who love cat-food and are on an average twice as large as a human. But the South African government in this movie is not so cruel. They allow the aliens to stay on in District 9.
But their settlement turns chaotic and in 2010, Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley) is given the job of serving them eviction notices. Convenient move on part of the director, that helps establish a parallel with District 6— an area in Cape Town, South Africa, known for evicting thousands during the apartheid regime of the 70s. In trying to draw a comparison with the 1970s period, Blomkamp slashes through certain historical facts, and in some cases completely overlooks them. The comparison he intends to form turns into caricature at best. District 6 was a relatively diverse community. There was also a certain percentage of Afrikaaners, Indians and people of other races living in District 6 at the time. But District 9 is shown as home only to the aliens, called “prawns” in the movie, along with Nigerians. The original demography as chronicled in history, is swept aside for District 9 to be more appealing perhaps.
The director’s aim lies solely in presenting a new age concoction of social segregation, with whichever means possible. The references or parallels to District 6 could have been better utilised in the movie but Blomkamp fails to blend historical elements with the script. He ends up using such rich background as a crutch to support a threadbare plot. The movie was predominantly shot in Soweto which was home to an overwhelming number of African-Americans during the apartheid era. Numerous agitations and uprisings stemmed from this little town against the then South-African government. None of these facts are incorporated in the movie and the so called political allegories which some may read into, have skewed foundations in actuality. Blomkamp’s attempt to create a socio-political metaphor through cinema fails to get even its facts straight.
MNU, the private corporation Wikus works for, is interested in learning the secrets of sophisticated alien weaponry. But despite possessing such high end weapons, the prawns never really resort to using it; not even when they are being forced to leave their settlements. No one knows why.
At some point in the movie, Wikus sprays an alien substance accidentally over himself and soon his arm starts to turn into that of a prawn. He flees and befriends Christopher, a cooperative prawn. The phrase sounds ludicrous but watching the scenes were equally so. Anyway, Wikus learns that Christopher along with a few friends are collecting fuel to help beam them back to the mother ship and eventually escape Earth. If all they want is to leave, then why is the government bothered again?
Then there is the unfortunate stereotyping of Nigerians as inhumane cannibals and gangsters. Throughout the movie, these Nigerians are seen exploiting the aliens and running a scam by selling cat-food for weapons. There is a gang lord named Obesandjo, whose name bears an uncanny resemblance to former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo. Not many like to have their country’s president compared to a cannibal and Nigeria certainly did not appreciate this misadventure.
The Nigerians are also shown indulging in inter-species prostitution. By this time all cinematic expectation has been rendered null and avoid; so the concept of a human being making love to an alien is passé. Some prawns may have anticipated a Natasha Henstridge but Blomkamp avoids such pointed interchanges. It is a pity that he shuns such an opportunity to show some ingenuity. The most original part of the movie is a fleeting glimpse of a half-alien-half-human Wikus entering a hapless alien from behind. The scene, it is actually a picture, is shown for about a second.
That scene somehow stays with you after the movie ends and you wonder if it is symbolic of your own immediate viewing experience.
P.S- I kinda liked their website. Check it out and also show it to your prawn friends if you have any. They can access it too.