Mark Terry

Thursday, February 04, 2010

District 9 and Me

February 4, 2010
A little backstory here. I was quite interested in seeing District 9 in the theater. So this summer, when my youngest son was elsewhere, my then-15-year-old and I went to see it. And although I never talked about this much, about 10 or 15 minutes or so in, I looked over at him and said, "Are you enjoying this?" He said, "Um, not much." So we got up, left, went down the hallway and watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, having missed only the first few minutes (and we'd both already seen it).

A lot of this has to do with two things. One, Ian, which is a little odd for a teenager, isn't terribly into creepy movies or horror movies. I imagine he'll go through a phase where he does--don't we all?--but he's not into them too much. Two, when they mentioned early on in the movie prostitutes servicing the aliens (prawns), I thought, "Uh-oh. This may not be the best film to see with my 15-year-old."

Anyway, because I'm a little compulsive this way, and because I could, I downloaded District 9 to my iPhone and finally got around to watching it.

In many ways, we skipped out before things got REALLY creepy. And, gee, we missed out on energy weapons that explode bodies in such a way that the blood and gore spatters on the camera lens, an un-ending stream of South African-accented profanity, and some fairly disturbing but mostly uncommented-upon racial stereotypes (more about that in a moment).

So, did I like the film? Actually, yes. The main character, Wikus Van De Merwe, (played brilliantly by Sharlto Copley), goes through a very interesting and nuanced transformation in this film. And I don't mean the transformation from a human to a prawn. I mean from a smiling, shallow, cocky moron to an angry, insightful, hopeful human being. Which presents a bit of a conflict, doesn't it, since at the very end of the film he's no longer a human being. Well, let the masters theses begin!

I thought for a moderately low-budget film, it was done in a very clever way. I'm sure a lot of producers and directors watch the film and think how smart the film makers were in their use of CGI and sets.

I thought the gritty documentary-style of filmmaking was interesting up to a point, when it later got a bit annoying.

I thought the only character in the entire film who had any kind of backstory was Wikus, which is sort of a problem. The bad guy soldier who's pursuing him is a cartoon cutout.

I thought the story arc was excellent.

I thought the gore was largely gratuitous, particularly how it was handled. How many times do I have to see blood and/or body parts splatter against the camera lens?

Oh yes, let's discuss briefly, the Nigerians. Or, for that matter, seemingly every black character in the film. The whites in the film are portrayed as the worst kind of humans (until the end, with Wikus, who only finds his humanity by being turned into a prawn), violent, bigoted, greedy, power-hungry... and the blacks. Well, the Nigerians are a bunch of violent, criminal, superstitious, crude gangsters. (To be fair, the prawns aren't portrayed positively in most cases either, with the exception of "Christopher" and his son; most of the prawns come about as depraved insects).

Well, as I thought watching it, this was a film that could probably only have been made by a South African, although I suspect that's rather limiting. The film turns apartheid on its head, or rather, turns it inside-out.

Do I recommend it?

Don't know. But it's a longshot for best picture.


Blogger Erica Orloff said...

My father was assaulted in Nigeria . . . left him unable to move his eyes for the rest of his life (part of the problem now, with his being blind). He dealt with the gangsters firsthand, up close, in their homes, with their prostitutes and their guns and their drugs. Interesting life, my dad. There's a novel there. Several. But I have a feeling the filmmaker knows that world very well.

I actually thought the apartheid theme and the idea of what humanity really IS was well done, and it was horribly depressing--and yet completely in keeping with the way humans deal with "other." It is AMAZING how humans will treat "other" and believe they are still human. It is the way mankind disappoints me most.

Rooting for it. Total longshot.

5:50 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

I think you could argue that within the context of Nigerian gangsters who've set up camp in District 9, they were totally realistic. Part of the problem comes when you start viewing the entire movie as some sort of allegory, which is sure easy to do; then you start looking at portrayals of various races. Although I think Blokamp was mostly interested in the differences between the humans and the prawns (not many, actually). Like I said at the beginning, once I saw the whole film, I liked it quite a bit. There's a lot there. Much of it unpleasant, unfortunately, but a mostly serious film that manages to be a lot of things, including a gore-fest SF thriller, as well as social commentary.

5:56 AM  
Blogger Natasha Fondren said...

I am SO with Erica about "it is the way mankind disappoints me most." I'm so sick of people dehumanizing others as an excuse to treat them worse than cats and dogs.

But District 9. :-) I didn't see it. And now that you describe it, I'm sorta glad I didn't. It does sound great, although those kind of movies stress me out. I feel like I should see it, though.

7:58 AM  
Blogger LurkerMonkey said...

I liked District 9 ... well, actually, I thought the set-up was great and it only made sense that the story was set in Johannesburg, considering its allegorical nature. And I didn't really have a problem with the way the other races were depicted—in truth, I never even really considered it because it felt like a pretty accurate representation of what might happen in that situation and the various populations that would get themselves involved in District 9.

So ... keeping in mind that I liked the movie overall, I thought it devolved a little bit in the last act, when it basically became a shootout and the cute alien kid wins the day. I felt like they started with such a cool premise and really set-up a pretty awesome idea with the alien technology and the one man who can control it, but then kind of frittered it away with fairly conventional story-telling at the end.

9:06 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

Well, like I said, I ultimately liked it quite a bit, but it's definitely graphic and the first half, at least, is definitely creepy. Which is why I'm ambivalent about recommending it, because it's not going to be everybody's cup of tea.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Mark Terry said...

A good analysis that I essentially agree with. Glancing thru reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, a lot of reviewers felt that way, too. I did feel like the first half or so I'd never quite seen anything like it, but with the last half or so I'd definitely seen it before. It did occur to me about halfway to two-thirds of the way through that I didn't know how the movie was going to end, and in that respect, it didn't end the way I thought it would, which for a movie, is, well, UNUSUAL.

9:12 AM  

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