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District 9 is brilliant

Right! Just got back from seeing it at the local movie theatre! We went to the 3 p.m. show and there were only about 15 people in the whole theatre. It was great not to have loud people or lots of little kids around.

Where to start...?

The main character. I think he was meant to be portrayed as your "typical clueless South African", and did a good job. I know people like him - people who don't see the "others" as beings with feelings, who refer to "them" and honestly just do not know any better. In the real world there are people like him, people who have families, who take their kids to school, who have braais (barbecues) on the weekend, who have friends, and who just live in this little bubble of cluelessness.

But it definitely helps if you have the cultural background: a lot of the things Wikus and the others do at the beginning - serving the aliens with eviction notices, talking about the aliens like they're zoo specimens - speaks directly to what people did during apartheid. You'd have documentaries about various things and people would speak just like that. "Oh, they do that. They like to live like that." Whatever. I recognized every documentary I'd seen about "township" life. ("Townships" were the areas where black people had to live during apartheid. Soweto is a HUGE township, for example.) The people in authority (cops, experts, whomever) would know a lot about the people they were "serving" - they could speak the language, they knew the customs - but they weren't affected by it on a personal level. The movie did a brilliant job of portraying that mindset.

Someone on another forum wrote that the aliens were shown as having no redeeming qualities. I don't think this is the case at all. The area where the aliens were kept was dirty, but it was a squatter camp (shanty town). Squatter camps sprang up mostly in the 1980s around major urban centres. A lot of people blamed apartheid, but it's one of the side-effects of rapid urbanization. Brazil has favelas (sp?) for example. You need to remember that a squatter camp is an informal settlement and they don't have paved roads, refuse removal, electricity, etc. So refuse is just left lying around, and in the dry time (in Joburg in July and August it gets VERY dry) it blows everywhere. So while people from other countries might be shocked or think the aliens were dirty and irredeemable, actually, squatter camps look like that. Some people also end up making their shacks so nice that they even have satellite dishes. So just because someone lives there doesn't make them irredeemable or dirty or even necessarily poor.

I find it ironic and kind of amusing that the main human baddies (aside from the cops and MNU people) were the Nigerians. In S.A. we really do have problems with Nigerian crime syndicates. Even the cops in real life are scared of Nigerians. So that, too, had a ring of truth.

I don't think that the aliens were meant to represent any particular group of people. They were just another group of "aliens" in the City of Gold; the only difference being they had a huge ship and cool weapons. In my opinion the movie isn't political in that it tries to get a political point across; it's more like a mirror. It basically holds a mirror up to South African society. I like to think that we would never experiment on aliens, but I can totally believe aliens might be separated from the rest of the population. Although in this day and age the government would probably just make them citizens and be done with it. MNU, the multinational corporation, while it had some S.Africans heading it, was also headed by at least one guy with an American accent. And it was this company, not the government, that wanted the alien weapons and biotechnology. I think in the end it comes down to: "BRING BACK ALIEN FOR STUDY. CREW EXPENDABLE" as the computer wrote in "Alien". It's just the setting that's different. Big business will always want the weapons and technology and consider the people expendable.

The journey of Wikus, the main character, made me think of Dunbar in "Dances with Wolves". It's a journey I love to take with characters. Sikes in "Alien Nation" (the TV series) goes through the same thing as well. The protagonist starts on the outside and something dramatic happens that makes him begin to see things from the "other" perspective. Eventually he becomes a part of the "alien/other" community; becomes one of them. In DWW one of the Union soldiers says to Dunbar, "Ya turned Injun, didn't ya?" In "Alien Nation" Sikes ends up getting together with Cathy (his Tenctonese neighbour) and spending most of his time with the Newcomers. In District 9 it's more blatant - Wikus actually turns into an alien - but it's the same idea. When he realises what is going on, he essentially switches his allegiance to the "correct" side, and the outward transformation is just the expression of that.

Lines in the movie that I found amusing:

"Don't you point that fokken tentacle at me!!" ("Fok", pronounced "fork", is the Afrikaans version of the f-word.)
"Voetsek!" (The guy shouting at the aliens loitering near the vehicle. It's pronounced 'footsack' and is Afrikaans. It basically means "scram" but more rudely.)
"Things have been falling off that bladdy (bloody) ship for months!"
At one point the bad guy says, "You see the alien in the Casspir? He knows something." A Casspir is the name of that armoured vehicle used in a lot of scenes. These really exist and are used by the army. They are normally painted yellow.
"Why are the lights off? Is the power off again?" Heheh. S.A. has been plagued by power disruptions in the last two or so years.

It's a hectic movie. And yes, Johannesburg really is that dusty. They filmed it in winter, when it's dry and there's grit in the air. You can even see mine dumps (those yellow "hills") in some scenes! At one point the camera panned across the city centre and whoops, there was a building with the MTN sign on it! (MTN is a cellphone network.) And I enjoyed seeing the news reports with South African channels' logos!

And the alien baby was adorable!


( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
Aug. 29th, 2009 11:24 pm (UTC)
Wow, that's fascinating! I hadn't planned to see the movie, but I'm thinking about it now that I have some background.

(p.s. hi!)
Aug. 31st, 2009 06:14 pm (UTC)
Do go see it - it's totally worth it!!
Aug. 31st, 2009 12:51 am (UTC)
Excellent, Excellent Review
This has got to be one of the most intelligent and informative reviews on the movie. Having reviewed it as an outsider to Johannesburg, I knew that there were cultural and inside references that went over my head so I had to judge it on it's merit as a story. Reading your review actually makes me appreciate the movie that much more even after giving it perfect marks. Thank you very much, I hope to direct my colleagues here for a read.

Greg Dragon of www.SpicyMovieDogs.com
Aug. 31st, 2009 06:17 pm (UTC)
Re: Excellent, Excellent Review
Thank you for those kind words! It's really exciting to have an actual science fiction movie made in my hometown. And then for it to be so good, and for people like you to enjoy it? Fantastic!
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )