Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Political SciFi: Suffering (and Healing) in District 9

“We must learn to regard people less in the light of what they do or omit to do, and more in the light of what they suffer.”― Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Letters and Papers from PrisonIf it’s true that history is told by the ‘winners’, what does it look like when we allow ourselves to hear the story of the ‘others’?This question lies at the heart of District 9, a science fiction action film set against the backdrop of racially divided South Africa and the remarkable directorial debut from Neill Blomkamp (Elysium). Using pseudo-documentary style filmmaking, District 9 tells follows the relationship between the human race and group of aliens (derogatorily named ‘prawns’) who landed in Johannesburg in 1982.  After 28 years of confinement in District 9, a local government-enforced camp, the South African leadership decides that it’s time to relocate their ‘tenants’ to a new facility and hire Multinational United (MNU) to carry out the mission.  Enter Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copely), an Afrikaner bureaucrat who is appointed to lead the camp relocation by serving the aliens with eviction notices.  Inexperienced but cocky, Wikus and the MNU forces raid the homes of their alien tenants with boyish glee, taking pleasure in their mistreatment. However, after being inadvertently sprayed by alien fluid, Wikus’ body slowly begins to change, taking on the form of a ‘prawn’ himself. As Wikus slowly mutates, he also starts to learn first-hand what life is like at the hands of the merciless MNU. With the transformation process accelerating and the MNU closing in, Wikus is forced to join forces with Christopher Johnson, a prawn who believes that there might be a cure for his situation.Released in August 2009, District 9 entered into the hectic summer blockbuster market with very little fanfare or star-power.  (In fact, the only “name” in the promotional materials was the film’s producer Peter Jackson, director of the Lord of the Rings films.) Written and directed by then-unknown filmmaker Neill Blomkamp, District 9 became an instant hit with critics and audiences, garnering 4 Oscar nominations including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay. Although the film takes the form of a sci-fi actioner, District 9 actually offers an unsettling (and honest?) look at Apartheid and it’s effect on South African culture.  (Incidentally, this theme should come as no surprise in that, having grown up in South Africa, this is likely something that would be close to Blomkamp’s heart.) What makes District 9 so unique however isn’t the subject matter but rather the manner with which it is handled. By focusing on Wikus’ journey, Blomkamp manages to actually reshape the perspective of his audience as well.  In other words, by opening the film with the story of Wikus and the MNU, Blomkamp invites sympathy for their reaction against a species that appears to be the aggressors. However, as Wikus becomes increasingly invested in the world of the ‘prawn’, Blomkamp is also able to challenge our assumptions, revealing an alternate story that exposes the nature of true evil. What’s more, it’s also on this level that Wikus’ journey echoes the Christian narrative and, more specifically, the story of Jesus Himself. As Jesus willingly sacrificed his Divine nature to become human, he also entered into our story in a way that he hadn’t before. In doing so, he was able to understand the human experience in a different manner, even ‘empathizing in our weaknesses’ (Hebrews 4:15). As a result, Jesus’ experience enabled him to offer his own life on our own behalf as the penalty for our sin. Similar to the manner in which Wikus’ life exemplifies what could be considered a moment of renewal for human-prawn relations, so too does Christ’s incarnation demonstrate hope to us spiritually by offering us new life.Nevertheless, this is not to suggest that Wikus is actually a Christ figure.  (His self-absorbed and racist heart eliminates any possible comparisons on that level.)  However, because of his transformation and gradual assimilation into the world of the ‘prawn’, what follows is an incredible example of incarnation.  Although the experience is far from his own choice, Wikus’ chance encounter with alien fluid slowly opens his eyes to an alternate version of the narrative that he thought he knew.  By suffering at the hands of his military counterparts, Wikus begins to enter into the story of the alien population himself.  As a result, this experience eventually begins to challenge his beliefs about their culture, reshaping his own behavior as well. In a powerful example for the church, Wikus suffers with the oppressed and, potentially, may serve as an advocate on their behalf in the future. As a result, Wikus’ ‘plight’ becomes his greatest blessing—and, potentially, an opportunity for hope for the prawn culture. In the end, District 9finds an effective balance between sci-fi action and social commentary by drawing the audience into the story of an unknown culture. This invitation to suffer with those who suffer echoes the heart of Christ as He calls us to seek His Kingdom here on earth. What’s more, in doing so, Blomkamp also invites his audience to re-examine their own hearts and, potentially, offer a voice to those who have none. Elysium will be released on August 9th, 2013.

Political SciFi: Suffering (and Healing) in District 9 Images

Great SCI-FI Action Film With Strong Political and Social Overtones
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Man (70) suffering from undisclosed illness dies after taking 'holy ...
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CCB :: Prayer :: CCB :: Day Of Prayer
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learned some things during the fast and I noticed a little something ...
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