District 9 review

Well, we finally went out and saw the movie District 9. For its intent, this movie was quite well done. In the extremely unlikely event aliens would ever come here, and if they were in the sad shape these aliens happened to be in, I would hope that the outcome would be different. Sadly, in this hypothetical situation, I can see this movie as being not too far off the mark. In the movie, the worst of humanity was put on display for our visitors. Humanity’s inhumanity to others who are different, to themselves, along with a healthy dose of greed and superstition. The reason this is somewhat plausible is because this is stuff we’ve seen before. With European colonization of the Americas, to apartheid in South Africa, to Nigerian witchhunts, to the genocide in Rwanda. The fact that people do notice these things and that there is moral outrage is a sign of progress, but it seems we have a significant ways to go to raise the bar.

Possible spoilers below the fold.

So, to keep this somewhat short, aliens landed above Johannesburg in South Africa about 20 years prior to the main events of the movie. Kind of telling was a quote in the movie that they knew with the rest of the world watching, South Africa needed to behave properly, or something like that. The aliens seem to be frightened and traumatized refugees. Somewhere along the way, due to their appearance, humans have adopted the derogatory term of prawns to refer to the aliens. Culture clashes between humans and aliens prompt the government to decide to relocate the aliens from the slum shanty town of District 9 to the tent city of District 10. A Multinational United (MNU) operative named Wikus van de Merwe is given the task of serving serving eviction notices to all the aliens, to give the appearance of legality.

In the process, he encounters some “magic fluid”. This fluid seems to be not only the basic for operating their space ships, machinery, and weaponry, but for some reason seem to also changes a person’s biology to become an alien. Since the alien weapons seem to be integrated into the alien biology such that only aliens can use the weapons, this means Wikus can now operate the weapons which, much to his own detriment, makes him valuable to a government totally indifferent to his own welfare. Interestingly, a Nigerian gang operating in District 9 is also interested in acquiring alien weaponry. They believe that by eating the sentient “prawns”, they can acquire their power. This is a form of magical thinking that is still prevalent in many parts of Asia, and which threaten tigers and rhinos. I have not heard of similar food based thinking in Nigeria, but magical thinking does prevalent.

So, in the course of events, Wikus, who seems to have been just as indifferently bigoted to the aliens as everybody else, discovers his own humanity by losing it, in the sense of his transformation into an alien. Expected, but a nice touch, as he seems to have grown into the only decent human around. There’s certainly a few nagging questions which could have gotten in the way of the plot, for example, the aliens do seem to have a lot technological skills, so it’s not clear to me why they let themselves get into such a sad state. But that may the back-story what so traumatized them in the first place. From a realistic point of view, one wonders why we didn’t see more international involvement with the aliens, but no doubt, that would have needlessly complicated the plot and the point the movie was trying to drive home.

That would seem to me to be spoiler enough. I certainly recommend this film. It is a reflection of the baser elements of humanity, which seem to still lie beneath the thin veneer of civilization. The vastness of space and high cost of venturing into it conspire to make it profoundly unlikely that we will ever be visited, but it would be nice to think that in that hypothetical situation, we would present a better humanity that what is depicted here. It would be nice if we could reach that level even without the prospect of unlikely visitations. How do we get there?

One contributing factor is, I think, the ongoing dialog of skepticism and showing magical thinking for the superstitious nonsense for what it is. Than, based on a rational, evidence based discussion, continue to contribute to the moral growth of our species.


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