Monday, August 12, 2013


The Unsustainable Future

The  following essay is not intended to be a review of Elysium (which I liked quite a bit) but rather an exploration of the themes and events in the film.

Do not read this if you are intending to see the film. There are spoilers ahead and specifically discussion of the ending of the film. See the movie, then discuss...

Elysium imagines life 150 years in the future. In the intervening years the population on Earth has exploded and the world is a crowded, dirty place. Downtown Los Angeles was wonderfully rendered with shacks on top of high rises and freeways, and in fact, everywhere. The  visual effects are very well done and the world of shanty towns seemed real.

The super-rich, the one percent of the one percent live in what is outwardly a utopia. Elysium has beautiful homes and wonderful yards with robotic servants and medical machines that can cure any ailment or repair any injury. Those medical miracle machines are not available on earth. All the citizens of Elysium are given a unique barcode which lets them onto the space station and access to all the goodies - including the medical pods. 

Enter our blue collar hero, Max, played by Matt Damon. He has been radiated in an industrial accident and will do anything to get up to Elysium. His former girlfriend is now a nurse and has a daughter. They reconnect when Max goes to the hospital.

Max takes a job from a shady fixer and attacks the industrialist (down on Earth troubleshooting)  that created the software that runs Elysium. Max has been equipped with a very low-tech cyberlink and he downloads the full Elysium software package from the industrialist's brain. 

Now everybody is after Max. He gets on a shuttle and makes it to Elysium where he and the fixer pull the software out of Max's head and permanently modify it to make all the people of Earth citizens of Elysium so that the sick little girl can use the medical pod. The Elysium government is disrupted and Elysium is now open to all. 

The End.

However... I find this ending troubling because what good would it really do to allow everyone onto Elysium? It would quickly become overcrowded and unsustainable. And what good would bringing the medical pod technology down to Earth really do? Imagine a world of massive overpopulation suddenly given a massive increase in life expectancy. There would be food wars and turf wars and end up with even worse problems. Soon enough someone would reduce the population via nuclear weapons and Elysium would likely be destroyed.

This is why I find the ending troubling and why I am not sure about the message of the film (if any) and where we go from here. Would the super rich truly be happy living quiet lives of parties and luxury?  Not being super rich I can't be sure, but a boredom level would have to take effect at some point.

I think that 25 years in Elysium's future will be a world in chaos and strife with turf wars and the world splintered into thousands of factions all fighting for a tiny piece of the pie.

I think that having Elysium there gives the people of Earth something to strive for, something to dream about, something to live for. It might even give them hope.

Hopefully we will make our future better.

Disclaimer:  The opinions expressed here are mine alone and do not reflect on those of any other person, my employer, etc. 'Nuff said.