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951023 - Elysium

monday morning movie club

Seven Unanswered Questions We Still Have About Elysium

Why didn't Elysium do better? That's the big question that Sony executives must be asking themselves this morning, since director Neill Blomkamp was blessed with a nine-figure budget and two big-name stars, yet Elysium made only $30.4 million in its opening frame, coming in at a figure well below Blomkamp's last film, the far cheaper District 9. While Hollywood debates the answer to that tough question, then, let's try to come up with some answers of our own to the questions we had — and continue to have — after watching the actual movie. Here are seven of the head-scratchers that we're still debating from the Matt Damon–Jodie Foster sci-fi flick. (Spoilers follow, obvs.)

Did they redub Jodie Foster's accent?
Last year at Comic-Con — and earlier this year at select theaters — Sony showed off footage from Elysium where Jodie Foster's character, Delacourt, had a pronounced French accent. In the final film, though, Foster sounded kinda dubbed-over, her accent more muted and less distinctly French. Was the studio worried that in a deeply progressive sci-fi film about immigration and health care, starring an outspoken Democrat and a lesbian icon, a French accent would simply be a bridge too far for conservative audiences? She was the villain, guys! It would have been fine!

Does Jodie Foster's evil plan make any sense?
So, Delacourt's big scheme is to reboot the main computer that runs Elysium, adding in a new line of code that will declare that the president is no longer the president anymore. Really? Her big political coup is the equivalent of scrawling a new line into the Constitution that insists "New Prez Jodie Rules 4-EVA," then hoping all her fellow politicians shrug and mutter, "Well, the computer says it's true, so … "? Not your best work, Delacourt.

Does Kruger's evil plan make any sense?
By the third act, it appears Kruger (Sharlto Copley) intends on double-crossing his boss Delacourt, but why? Why would Kruger want to be president of Elysium, if it appears to be a powerless desk job and seemingly the only thing he likes to do is murder people for money? And when executing this plan, why would he bring Frey along with him? Just for rape purposes? And if he's in it just for the rape, why bring Frey's cancer-ridden daughter? But maybe most important, after his face blew up and it was reconstructed, why did it have a beard on it? If there were crumbs in it when it exploded, would he have been revived with a future-doughnut in his mouth?

How rich are Elysium's rich?
At the beginning of the film, we learn that because of overpopulation, Earth's rich decide to move to Elysium. But we don't learn who these "rich" are. If it's just the one percent (who in 2011 America earned at least $386,000), or even the 10 percent (at least $108,000), it wouldn't justify Earth being left in the shambles we see it in. Also, assuming certain jobs earn a comparable wage as they do today, a lot of folks who are essential for a functioning society would be left on Earth. Sure, we can assume that robots take care of all service industry jobs, but what about professions that demand certain levels of emotional intelligence (school teachers, psychologist, etc.)? Or how about the type of professions that don’t necessarily earn tons but carry a good deal of cultural capital (writers, designers, professors, artists, actors, etc.)? Furthermore, what if an investment banker on Elysium has a kid who aspires to be a sculptor or high school guidance counselor; obviously they wouldn't be making Elysium level bank — would they be kicked off the island? Do Elysiumians pay rent or is there some sort of dues system, like a space-sorority? 

Why are all of the houses on Elysium so empty?
Taken a step further: Does anyone actually live on Elysium, or are they just at pool parties all day? Time and time again, our heroes do something on Elysium that would seem to attract attention — whether it's breaking into giant mansions or, y'know, crash-landing on Elysium in the first place — and yet no looky-loos materialize, and all of those big houses seem to be empty to begin with. (During one of the home-invasion sequences, you can faintly hear an automated real estate spiel, indicating that this is some sort of open house … that just so happens to be stocked with an expensive, totally superfluous med-bed.) Elysium is a place that everyone on Earth would kill to get to, so why does it feel so much like a ghost town?

Would everyone on Elysium really be okay with that ending?
In the final sequence of the movie, Matt Damon's Max heroically sacrifices himself in order to wipe away all the class distinctions that separate the earthbound from the Elysium-dwellers: Thanks to the code uploaded from Max's head, every slum rat on planet Earth is suddenly bestowed with Elysium-level citizenship. Yay! But also, would the rich people on Elysium really allow that to happen? It's hard to believe that they'd be super chill about the fact that all these poors have access to the same exclusive shit that they do; more likely, all the Elysium-dwellers (well, all seven of them) would band together and pass some more laws to restore class warfare.

Would everyone on Earth be really okay with that ending?
In the film, the last image we see is of Earth's huddled masses walking toward two ships filled with med-beds. Are we to assume that everyone will just orderly stand behind each other in line, waiting to heal their many ailments? Wouldn't this take forever? Let's say there are 100 beds and it takes 30 seconds to get a person into the bed and heal them. If there are 11 billion people on Earth (which is a safe assumption based on estimates), it will take about 105 years to heal everyone. Even if somehow there are miraculously 10,000 med-beds and the whole process takes just over a year, then what? Earth's overpopulation problems would only get worse. And, sure, now Earthlings can travel to Elysium, but then Elysium would just get overpopulated and the rich people would simply build a second, better Elysium — one where people actually spend time inside their houses.

But speaking of that ending, here's a fun aside: When Vulture's Kyle Buchanan interviewed Jodie Foster at Comic-Con last year, just a few hours before Sony showed off the first footage from Elysium, they were talking about how admirable it was that Blomkamp didn't follow up District 9 with a sequel, to which Foster just flat-out said, "And there won't be a sequel to Elysium, either, because Matt and I both die at the end." Pause. Pause. "You probably shouldn't print that." Jodie Foster: Good at Golden Globe speeches, not so good at spoiler alerts! Who knew?

Photo: Stephanie Blomkamp/Columbia TriStar