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District 9, the most recent film of Neil Blomkamp, serves as a criticism against the racial segregation, not between only different skins colors, but broader than ever, between intergalactic races. The film follows the story of Wickus van de Merwe, who under the pressure of his father-in-law, has to evict over 2.0 million alien refugees illegally and move them to another area away the human population. After a day in the refugee camp, Merwe comes home realizing that he undergoes a metamorphosis to become one of the aliens. Now that everyone on Earth is against him, Merwe resides in District 9, seeking the help from the aliens themselves, where he learns that they are not so different from humans. Blomkamp criticizes the selfish nature of human in hope of changing people's belief about racial differences through the film's style and environment plus Merwe's character development.
The movie takes place in city of Johannesburg, South Africa. It all begins about 28 years ago when an enormous alien mothership arrives on top of the city. Within a short period of time, the government initiates an operation to explore the mothership, during which they find millions of dying alien refugees. Seeing their potential to cause mass destruction, the government does not hesitate to demand for a population control. This action places the entire alien population in an area called District 9 under the control of a private corporation, Multinational United (MNU), whose primary secret mission is to crack the super powerful weapons that they confiscated from the aliens. This part of the movie was done in a style of documentary and interviews. Critic Philip French comments on this kind of filming, "the film is set in present-day South Africa and uses a variety of cinematic modes - a corporate promotional film, handheld newsreel documentary and conventional narrative - to create a convincing air of authenticity" (French). Certainly, Blomkamp uses different opinions from different sources to let the audience know that the crisis in District 9 is much more serious. This is a clever way to convince the audience that the problem is true because if Blomkamp were to provide only one person's opinion, the viewers will question whether that opinion is valid. Therefore, the direct successfully uses the filming style to catch the audience's attention.
After the capture of alien, the South African government places the alien population in District 9. French continues to criticize the condition of District 9, "They were brought to earth and confined to a camp called District 9 immediately beneath their mother ship, as squalid as the worst African township. Thus into the land that gave us apartheid, repressive legislation and scientifically based racial prejudice..." (French). Just as this critic says, District 9 is certainly not a paradise, given the selfish nature of human race, but a filthy, suburban area which resembles the conditions of District Six-a real residential area in South Africa where apartheid was practiced. Blomkamp is criticizing the racial segregation by alluding District Six. The whites always patronize the blacks because they have different skin color, hair, and facial feature. Just as white over black, human look down on these extraterrestrial species like they are prawn-as defined in the movie, "the derogatory term 'prawns' is used for the aliens. Obviously, it implies something that is a bottom feeder that scavenges the leftovers." Essentially, what Blomkamp does exemplifies how ignorant our race can be towards a group of people or alien with differences.
The story introduces Merwe van de Merwe, starred by Sharlto Copley, in a mission to relocate the entire population of "prawns." He takes command of the operation appointed by his father-in-law. Merwe is a portrait of a decent MNU employee in his 30s. In the interviews, good things were spoken about Merwe by different interviewees especially his family. For example, he made his wife souvenir with a message that hand-made stuffs means much more. Perhaps, the audience at this point has a good impression with Merwe. But then Blomkamp continues the movie with a shift of character in Merwe. Merwe visits a shack to get a signature for the eviction notice and comes across one with about 40 or 50 "prawn" eggs. As cruel as he can get, he decides to burn down the shack. Critic Matt Mueller condemns the action of Merwe, "A smarmy pencil-pusher in sleeveless knitwear, Wikus is an amusing bumbler but also a nasty creep who laughs at the popping sounds prawn pupae make as a flamethrower roasts them alive" (Mueller). This obviously disillusioned the audience from what they know or assume of Merwe. It is no surprise that Blomkamp proves that jumping to conclusion is wrong by presenting the good side and evil side almost at the same time. Apparently, the director is trying to create a series of questions among the audience about Merwe's characters as well as the rest of human population.
The movie moves on with the event of Merwe's transformation after coming contact with an alien's chemical. Being captured and experimented, Merwe find himself trapped in human's cruelty. He gets even more frustrated by a traitor whom he once called father-in-law. As they discover his ability to use the prawns' weaponry, he became a sole subject for world's weapon researchers. In a split second, he is able to escape but then to only realize that he is alone facing the rest of the world. Realizing this, he decides to reside in the residence of District 9, where the rest of the population least cares about. He then comes across Christopher Johnson. Johnson is a prawn; certainly what are expected from him are cruelty, indecency, and wilderness. However, his image is proved otherwise-he is a caring, loving father who tries to send his family back home. Merwe starts to see these characteristics in these creatures. They are not just prawns but creatures with real feelings, desires and just about everything that human bears. Perhaps they are even more decent than the human as French mentions in his article (French). I agree with this conclusion because the betrayal that Merwe's father-in-law carries out were nearly as decent as a prawn father tries to get his family back home. Intentionally, Blomkamp wants to remind people not to judge a book by its cover.
The story entails more about the escape of Merwe. He acknowledges that the chemical he was exposed to is the only one that can power the mothership, which it took Johnson 20 years to collect enough. Perhaps, this may add to what Blomkamp tries to prove about the prawns-they have patience just like our race. Merwe agrees to help Johnson get the chemical back from the lab in exchange for his humanity back. After a series of gunfight, they finally get back what they set out for. However, while searching for the chemical, Johnson comes across what seems to be his friend's cadaver, which is dissected and experimented by human. Johnson grieved for his friend forgetting about the soldiers shooting at him until Merwe reminds him of his son. Again, this is a nice little reminder that Blomkamp integrated in the movie for viewers of the equivalency of human quality in the prawns. The two managed to flee the facility to get back to the mothership. During which journey they were stopped MNU's military. Seeing a tight situation, Merwe asks Johnson to go get his son and get to their planet, while he stays and hold the military personnel back. Christopher Smith adds, "Now that he's infected and physically undergoing a bug-like metamorphosis (cue the Kafka influences), Wikus shakes off the trappings of caricature and becomes a more believable character. He now is someone you pull for, particularly because he's a good man who wants to do right by the aliens" (Smith). This is true as the character development of Merwe van de Merwe becomes obvious. By residing with these prawns, he realizes what it is like to be one of them, which switches his cruelty to sympathy. Blomkamp's goal is to say that it may take a lot but understanding others is possible.
In conclusion, Blomkamp's movie, District 9, is an excellent movie. The experience that it provides is simply not just another explosive, action-packed sci-fi will give the audience minutes of joy but more than that-a long-lasting, valuable lesson. Its central theme criticizes the egotistical nature of mankind in hope of improving the living condition in many parts of the world today. The fact that the progression will or will not be made still lies within our little human hearts. However, an attempt to break through is always appreciated.
- French, Philip. "District 9." Rev. of A Movie. The Observer. 6 Sept. 2009. Web. 01 Dec. 2009. <http://www.guardian.co.uk/film/2009/sep/06/district-9-review>.
- Mueller, Matt. "District 9 (15)." Rev. of A Movie. TOTAL FILM Welcome to the movies. Future Publishing Limited, 13 Aug. 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. <http://www.totalfilm.com/reviews/cinema/district-9>.
- Smith, Christopher. "District 9: Movie Review (2009)." Rev. of A Movie. WEEK in REWIND CHRISTOPHER SMITH. 20 Aug. 2009. Web. 1 Dec. 2009. <http://www.weekinrewind.com/2009/08/district-9-movie-review-2009.html>.