Elysium is a futuristic, scientific thriller that was released in the summer of 2013 and stars Matt Damon and Jodi Foster.
In 2154 only two social classes exist: the extremely poor and the extremely wealthy. The poor live on an overpopulated, ruined Earth policed and governed by rigid robots. Meanwhile, the rich and powerful live on a lavish space habitat called Elysium. As Earth is slowing dying Elysium is thriving. Elysium is full of lush greenery, beautiful mansions, state of the art technology, and the best government services. The citizens are all privileged, polished and well-educated. Their wealth and citizenship on Elysium allows them to own Med-Bays that cure any illness or injury known to man.
The movie’s protagonist is Max Da Costa (Damon) a former car thief living in Los Angeles. He works on the assembly line for Armadyne Corporation; a company that manufactures weapons for Elysium as well as the robots that govern Earth. At work Max is accidently exposed to a fatal dose of radiation. With only days to live, Max knows he needs a Med-Bay to survive. He pursues the help of a smuggler named Spider. Spider is known for his operation to smuggle illegals into Elysium. Spider agrees to help Max get to Elysium for a price. Max, using a surgically attached exoskeleton, must steal financial information from John Carlyle the CEO of Armadyne.
Meanwhile on Elysium, Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Foster) is being reprimanded by the President for employing a sleeper agent named Kruger. Kruger just shot down two aircrafts from Earth carrying illegal immigrants to Elysium. However, one aircraft makes it to Elysium, but is quickly sent back to Earth. The President is appalled by Delacourt’s extreme tactics to keep Elysium “safe”. He dismisses Kruger and warns Delacourt to change her ways. Delacourt goes against this warning. She decides that she must protect Elysium with her own power. She employs the help of John Carlyle. Carlyle creates a program capable of overriding Elysium and will give Delacourt the Presidency. Carlyle downloads the program into his brain for transport to Elysium with lethal encryption against hackers.
Max and friends hijack Carlyle’s shuttle and successfully download all the information in Carlyle’s brain. Unknown to Max at the time, he now has the key to Elysium. Despite complex games of cat and mouse between Max and Delacourt/Kruger throughout the middle of the movie, Max makes it onto Elysium. With the help and knowledge of Spider, Max is able to override Elysium, but must pay the ultimate price due to the lethal encryption. Max choses to die so his loved ones and the citizens of Earth have the opportunity of a better life as citizens of Elysium. It works. As soon as the system is overturned, drones are sent to Earth to help the sick and the poor. Med-Bays are available to everyone. Everyone has the same rights and access all because of Max’s sacrifice.
The movie echoes several current political and social issues we face today.
First, the movie shows the class issues. In Elysium there is no middle class. The gap between the rich and the poor is literally thousands of miles apart. This is an exaggerated version of what is happening United States today. The middle class in the United States is virtually disappearing. According to USA Today’s report on April 2nd:
Since 2008, the number of Americans who call themselves middle class has fallen by nearly a fifth, according to a survey in January by the Pew Research Center, from 53% to 44%. Forty percent now identify as either lower-middle or lower class compared with just 25% in February 2008 (Rugaberg, 2014).
According to Gallup, the percentage of Americans who say they’re middle or upper-middle class fell 8 points between 2008 and 2012, to 55% (Rugaberg, 2014).
The second obvious parallel is access to healthcare. The rich citizens of Elysium are never sick. They don’t get old or fragile. If they do get sick or injured they need not worry for they have access to Med-Bays that immediately cures any ailment. However, Med-Bays are only available for Elysium citizens. In the movie, the illegal immigrants from Earth attempt to use a Med-Bay with no success. The Med-Bay’s system must be able to verify the person’s citizenship before providing treatment. In other words, they fancy machine will not treat just anyone. Obviously, access to healthcare is a huge, hot topic right now in the United States. Is access to basic healthcare a right? Should it only be for people who can afford it? Until just VERY recently, all industrialized nations other than the United States provided healthcare to citizens. And why wouldn’t they? Healthy citizens make a healthy and resilient nation. It is a good and humane policy. The Affordable Care Act established by the Obama administration may not be perfect but it is a step in the right direction on fixing big issue.
The third and fourth issues highlighted in Elysium are tied together is illegal immigration and overpopulation. Elysium went to extreme measures to keep illegal immigrates out of their space habitat. Although the United States was founded on immigration, it is now becoming a rather massive issue. According to Kane and Johnson, more than 10 million undocumented aliens currently residing in the United States and that number is growing by 700,000 per year (2006). Immigrants come to the United States for the same reasons that immigrants tried to get to Elysium, for the chance at better opportunities to live an enhanced life. Immigration is not a direct threat to any society but undocumented individuals can “distort laws, distract resources, and effectively creates a cover for terrorists and criminals” (Kane & Johnson, 2006). While the United States does allow an individual to become naturalized, it does not look like Elysium provides that opportunity to non-citizens. In the movie, Earth has been completely depleted of all natural resources due to overpopulation. The living conditions appear to be exceedingly poor with pollution. There is no vegetation or clean water. Some individuals believe that the United States is already experiencing the effects of overpopulation as we our consuming our national resources at an unsustainable rate. According to fairus.org, in 2009 America depended on foreign imports for 28.8 percent of our energy consumption and this number only continues to grow (2009). We need to STOP our careless use of national resources and address the continued growth of the population BEFORE it is too late.
Other issues addressed in Elysium include the inefficiency of government agencies at the street-level, corruption, and discrimination. The scene where Max is severely beaten by robo-cops for something that a human cop would realize is a complete misunderstanding. Robots do not understand the “gray zone”; things are only seen as black/white or right/wrong. Another instance of inefficiency by street-level robo-bureaucrats is when Max visits his parole officer. From the clip below you see SEVERAL people waiting around in the agency. Robots are assisting people initially as human employees are considered a second-level source of service. The robots have no “bedside manner”. They are rigid and cannot compute circumstances that may fall into the gray area. As you can see dealing with the robot parole officer can be frustrating!
Corruption happens when Defense Security Delcourt goes rouge. Her decision to attempt to overthrow the government leads to the “downfall” of Elysium. Delcourt believed to be above the law. In in her mind she was justified in her actions because she was protecting Elysium. In reality, she was blinded by power and ego all of which lead to her violent death and the end of Elysium‘s exclusivity. Finally, the movie plainly displays discrimination. The rich citizens of Elysium are predominately white. Most of the scenes from Earth are in Los Angeles which the movie portrays as predominately Hispanic Spanish-speaking population. At the end of the movie as medical ships are sent to the new citizens of Elysium on earth, it shows other corners of the world which also seem to be less white and more “ethnic”. Therefore, the majority on Earth is not white and poor. Sound familiar?
I would recommend this movie to anyone who enjoys a good sci-fi movie and to any Public Administration student.
Rugaber, C. (2014, April 2). More Americans see middle class status slipping. Retrieved from http://www.usatoday.com/story/money/personalfinance/2014/04/02/more-americans-see-middle-class-status-slipping/7220635/
Kane, T., & Kirk, J. (2006, March 1). The real problem with immigration.. and the real solution. Retrieved from http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2006/03/the-real-problem-with-immigration-and-the-real-solution