District 9 (US-New Zealand, 2009)

The Fly meets Robocop

Genre films, particularly SF, are great for smuggling interesting messages into mainstream entertainment and premises don’t come much better than this where aliens arrive in a pathetic state and end up being corralled in a township in Johannesburg. The parallel with apartheid is clear, though it must be remembered that, for many cinemagoers, apartheid is history. The form of the film, as a mix of television documentary, TV news reports and omniscient (ie normal) filming, helps tell the tale with immediacy; though it wouldn’t stand up to an analysis of a  consistent narrative voice. But…

Genre films can degenerate into cliche, District 9 mines every narrative trope available, and the characters are deeply under-developed. So the last half of the film is a raging yawn; that said, it is 119th on the imdb and was a commercial hit. More worrying is its politics: whilst the idea of aliens being degenerate is a fascinating one, the apartheid parallel then becomes extremely worrying. Or maybe they’re not degenerates, we are not given enough detail to understand why they are scavengers and why they appear not to be able to operate their spaceship. Is their behaviour a result of how they are treated on Earth or were they a load of criminals dumped on Earth, similar to the way Britain used to send convicts to Australia? Ambiguity is fine but in offering an allegorical reading the film has a duty to be clearer in what it’s trying to say.

And the representations of the Nigerians…?! How is it okay to group the superstition-ridden gangsters as Nigerians?

This should have been a great film but the script’s far too weak.


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