Friday, January 17, 2014

Futuristic Movie Review #1: Elysium

This has to be one of the best Sci Fi movies to come out recently.  It combines lots of advanced technology with some hard hitting political themes, creating a truly evocative picture of the future.  The movie was written and directed by Neill Blomkamp.  Check out some of the awesome concept art here:


The year is 2154, humanity has created a space station habitat known as Elysium where the upper class live, enjoying the benefits of advanced technology while everyone else on earth is forced to live in poverty.

Once of the central themes of the movie is that Elysium is in possession of advanced medical technology that can cure any injury or disease, this means the people living on Elysium are practically immortal.  Instead of spreading the benefits of the medical technology to the human race in general, they horde it for themselves and aggressively impede outsiders from gaining access.

The main character, Max, has recently been let out of prison for being involved in various criminal enterprises.  He gets a job at a factory manufacturing robots and is then involved in an industrial accident where he is exposed to a lethal dose or radiation, leaving him with five days to live.

He decides his only chance is to find a way to Elysium, so he goes to see a crime lord, Spider.  Spider is obsessed with getting access to Elysium, but every ship that he has tried to sneak in has been shot down.  Spider offers Max a deal, if Max wants a ticket he must steal valuable data from the head of a corporate executive giving Spider access to various computer systems and bank accounts.  Max agrees out of desperation and is fitted with a power exoskeleton that grants robotic strength.

Unknown to them at the time, the defense minister of Elysium is plotting a coup of the leadership using a reboot of the system to install herself as president.  The corporate executive is brought into the coup and agrees to write the program to reboot the system.  He is traveling back to Elysium with the data in his head when Max shoots down his ship and steals the data with a neural link.

The defense minister calls on a squad of specially trained covert ops agents to capture Max and reclaim the data.  The leader of the agents is named Kruger, he is a heavily augmented person with stockpiles of advanced weapons, drones and other military equipment.

The defense minister is not authorized to use Kruger because of his involvement in various violent incidents, but due to the situation, she goes behind the presidents back.  Kruger arrives at the scene of the data theft in a small warship and proceeds to kill all of Max's hired help with various smart weapons.

Max is wounded but escapes to the hospital where he is helped by a friend of his, Frey, who is a nurse there.  She takes him to her house where he discovers that she has a daughter dying of an autoimmune disease.  She begs Max to bring her to Elysium with him.  He refuses and tries to leave before Kruger finds out she has helped him, but one of his search drones spots him leave and Kruger captures Frey and her daughter.

Max goes to Spider who reads the data in his head, discovering that he now posses the boot codes to Elysium, he hatches a plan to reboot the system with every person on the planet as a citizen of Elysium.  Unfortunately, the defense minister has shut down the air space so none of Spider's ships can leave.  Max realizes that the minister wants him alive so he turns himself in to Kruger who immediately flies him up to Elysium.

After escaping with Frey, they are joined by Spider and his fighters and together they beat Kruger and reboot Elysium with every person as a citizen.  The system automatically dispatches medical ships and begins the process of healing everyone on the planet.

Besides great action scenes, awesome special effects and a huge showcase of advanced technology, the movie highlights an important aspect of how coming advanced technology will come up against humanities old world mentality.  It is somewhat obvious from the beginning that if the security obsessed elites decided to extend the benefits to all mankind, they could create post scarcity for everyone.  What stops them is fear or greed, and this movie makes clear how possibly distopic things could get if super advanced technology is mixed with our current self interested mentality.

One of the best things about this movie is the ending scene, Spider and Max have locked themselves in a data room and are preparing the system override, while the president and his commando thugs are trying to break down the door.  Spider runs the program successfully but the commandos break through and arrest him, however, when the system reboots, Spider is now added as a citizen.  Robotic guards are immediately dispatched and arrest the commandos, because robots serve the computer system to the letter.

This shows an interesting aspect of robotic soldiers, they can be programmed to fulfill certain duties and will always fulfill those duties no matter what.  All that matters is who controls the robots, if the robots are programmed to protect people, they will do so and never harm a person.  Yet, in the wrong hands they can be fearsome soldiers.

The way any technology is used ends up being a reflection of the individual.  Technology is an extension of us, it can heal us, protect us, or destroy us.  It is up to us how quickly we bring the events depicted in the end of the movie, whether it happens quickly and peaceful, or is long, violent and drawn out as depicted in Elysium.  Either way, I believe we will inevitably reach post scarcity, a time when technology makes resources plentiful, advanced medical technology is given to everyone for free, and the necessity to take care of every person is widely recognized as being a foundational goal for bringing humanity into the future.

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