One of the most striking, powerful and poignant statements about human nature made it's way to us during summer 09 in the form of this tough, gritty, bracingly realistic and singularly unique movie. "District 9", directed by Neill Blomkamp of South Africa, of all unlikely places, and produced by New Zealand heavyweight, Peter Jackson, of "King Kong" and "The Lord of the Rings" fame, relays a quite unique narrative premise only ever seen before in Nicholas Roeg's "The Man Who Fell to Earth" ... aliens not as benevolent gods or invading monsters, but as our victims.
An immense, almost city-sized alien spacecraft arrives and parks itself over the city of Johannesburg and then remains there, inert and incommunicado. Eventually we ( humans ) rouse the nerve to fly up to the behemoth spaceship to discover whatever we can. Eventually, once inside, we find a large population of creatures of a very alien form deep within. They are all sick, leaderless, disoriented and in a very bad condition. So what do we do? ...... drag them all off their ship, put them in a barb-wired enclosed ghetto/shanty town ( District 9 ), treat them with utmost disdain, near starve them and routinely deal with them quite brutally, even cruelly.
The narrative of "D9" begins in "medias re", the middle of the story. The "Prawns", as we pejoratively call them, have already arrived and have been interred in their ghetto for 20 years but are now about to be removed away from the Johannesburg environ and out to a more crowded prison camp. The government, through a giant multi-national corporation, MNU, has elected a new patsy, a pencil pusher ( Sharlto Copely ) from its office who has almost no direct knowledge of or experience with the aliens he "administers" to be the one to go in to serve "eviction notices" and begin the process of getting them all out. Wikus's video documentary of eviction day gives us a taste of his smarmy, self-assured, bureacratic personality and sets up the environment and characters that later explode into the main drama after a fateful turn of events changes his routine day into a major turning point for all.
At first Wikus is a despicable and insensitve bureaucrat who even callously dispatches young "Prawns" in their eggs with schoolboy cruelty and joy. But eventually we feel sorry for this almost innocent twerp once he meets with an accident that exposes him to an alien fluid that begins a radical transformation of his DNA. This transformation turns him from hunter and evictor into the hunted and despised. With break-neck rapidity things turn 180 degrees for Wikus and the hitherto clandestine unholy alliance between government, multi-national corporation and the military comes into sharp focus.
Indeed, eventually you are shocked to find out that, from the get-go, the military and MNU have been ferreting out the weapons potential in the aliens and their technology and NOT finding ways to help them, or even learn something that can actually benefit humanity. Unbridled lust for money and power, the two most defining characteristics of human beings, then kicks into high gear.
It all comes to a viscious head when Wikus, his life and reputation utterly destroyed, realizes that he is not going to be helped by his human compatriots, but indeed is being sought out to be used in the military's biological weapons research. This research also uses the aliens freely and hideously in merciless and "inhumanly" cruel experiments when the military understands that the key to said weapons technology lies in the secret of their DNA.
On the run and desparate to save his life, Wikus turns to District 9 for refuge, stumbling into the home of an alien he had tried to evict earlier that day. And it is this alien, "Christopher", with his small boy at his side, who holds the dangerous secret to Wikus' transformation and the salvation of the "Prawns". Ironically it is also here, in the alien's shack, that Wikus, tearfully desparate for mercy, learns his first lessons in it ... from a non-human teacher.
Apartheid, corporate adventurism, human medical experimentation of the type the Nazi's engaged in, governmental lies justifiying actions otherwise morally reprehensible and the seemingly inherent capacity of human beings for cruelty, morally bankrupt opportunism with a shocking lack of compassion are the real themes of this strikingly tough and original motion picture.
Blomkamp's direction is tight and suspensful, keeping you on the edge of your seat right from the very first frames. The action is fast and electric and nothing in the film is superfluous. The story is rife with profound ethical questioning but is not entirely without compassion and humour. In fact, the greatest moments of compassion are almost entirely non-human. The cinematography is perfection. The dozens of shots of the spacehip at all times of day and conditions of light are so real they're striking. The "Prawns" themselves and their interactions with humans are also remarkably real ... all too real. And the ending sets up the inevitability of a Part Two.
A unique sci-fi film with a very fresh premise, shot largely in a mock documentary style and brandishing a sharp, stinging indictment of the darker side of the human race. "District 9" is, I think, already a must-have in any good science fiction lovers collection.