Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Elysium and political science fiction, part 2

Which brings us to Elysium, which takes it's place with In Time as very political science fiction.

Wait, wait! Let me rephrase that: Elysium and In Time seem very political because they comment directly on and criticize our current systems. Compare that with something like... well, how about Demolition Man, a very entertaining action science fiction film--if I remember correctly. (Mostly I just remember the thing about the three shells replacing toilet paper.) Demolition Man involves a risk-taking cop and a psycho terrorist, with the further s.f. idea that society in the future is very clean and the psycho terrorist has been revived by someone to kill off some rebellious people. So we end up rooting for the underdogs, the individuals, the risk-taking cop--which, frankly, doesn't seem so overtly political because that's one of our founding stories. Underdog George Washington, individualistic cowboys taming the West, risk-taking cops who buck the system for moral reasons--how many stories of ours fit into that basic form?

So when I say that Elysium is very political, I should be clear: it is more obviously political because (a) it is critical and (b) it is not very subtle. By comparison, Demolition Man isn't all that subtle, with Stallone personifying the heroic aspect of a dirty, individualistic America; and something like Alien--where a corporation is willing to kill off its workers for profit--may be critical, but is a little more subtle. (I mean, Alien is a great haunted house story, with a monster picking off people who can't leave. The whole political aspect is small details that you don't really need to understand to enjoy the film. Hence: subtle.)

Which brings us back to the difference between Skinny Bitch Jesus Meeting and my own sketch comedy--which honestly, wasn't as funny. And it's not because I'm more critical in my sketch comedy, but because I'm not subtle.

Which brings us--again!--back to Elysium, which got a lot of flack for being political when it should more properly have gotten flack for being a little unsubtle. Rich people have access to medical technology and poor people live terrible lives that are seriously constrained by material considerations. Well, duh! To put it another way: did we need to make this into science fiction to get some of the same questions and themes? Heck, you could've made this a Roaring 20s noir about a guy trying to get access to some doctor who was dedicated to healing rich gangsters in some resort.

Oh boy, this is going to be a three-parter, isn't it? I haven't even gotten into what Elysium did right and what it did wrong.

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