Conservative and liberal commentators alike have remarked on the obvious and self-conscious symbolism of Elysium. The whole thing hinges on what Milton Friedman deplored as "building a highway to Fort Knox": give non-citizens access to public benefits for doing us the favor of showing up and they won't stop coming when there are no more jobs to be had; they simply won't stop coming.
Many political buzzwords are shoehorned into the script, and even on my first viewing they stuck out like a sore thumb. Drew Zahn at WorldNetDaily briefly sums up the many ways the movie telegraphs what social issues you are to have in mind as you watch the film:
For starters, if the human-smuggling ships that try to reach Elysium were called “unauthorized ships” or “unwelcome ships,” it would fit an apolitical story. But when they’re called “undocumented ships” … the allusion to today’s illegal immigration debate is obvious. . . . Furthermore, if the unauthorized people who landed on Elysium were called “invaders” or “intruders,” it could be an apolitical movie. But when they’re called “illegals”? Who do you think they’re talking about?
And when “deportation” ships send the “illegals” who came on “undocumented” vessels home – and when everyone on earth speaks Spanish, while the language is unheard on Elysium – this isn’t coincidence. This is a political statement.
And finally, when Elysium’s military guardian justified her “homeland security” border-enforcement brutality by saying she was jusjust “protecting our liberty,” it made no sense in the context of the film, but was clearly put there as a snide slap at tea-party types [or possibly to capitalize on lingering anti-Bush sentiment], some of the last people in this country who even remember what “liberty” means.The Occupy-driven theme of "evil corporations" being all "corporationy" makes the common mistake of blaming capitalism instead of corporatism. The politicians most against capitalism tends to be the ones most eager to have a tight integration between "too big to fail" corporations and the federal government. Unless they are straight up socialists. As progressives are fond of pointing out, Hitler didn't mind big corporations--as long as they operated as extensions of government power, which is why the old school progressives (with which Hillary Clinton identified herself in the 2008 primary debates with Obama) publicly admired Hitler (something progressives aren't fond of pointing out). Something like this can be seen in the four corporations in Israel that operate as extensions of the federal government's socialized healthcare--extensions which routinely tricked immigrant women into contraceptive treatments. Old school progressives like Woodrow Wilson (and Hillary Clinton was vocal about identifying with this group) championed forced sterilizations and eugenics programs, for which they also admired Hitler and other European fascists. (Note that the movie at the very beginning blames the problems of the Earth partly on the fact that the masses have bred unchecked like rabbits.)
As you can imagine, his [the protagonist's] plan [to save himself] meets resistance by those who would rather lose a highly trained and reliable worker than give him a ride on the costless healing machine.Max DeCosta's job consists of moving robot soldier parts (he doesn't even have the skills of the robot factory worker in the similar 2012 adaptation of Total Recall) in and out of radiation chambers. DeCosta gets stuck in a radiation chamber because his foreman threatens to fire him if he doesn't get inside the radiation chamber and dislodge those stuck items. The foreman has time to threaten him . If the evil CEO has really built the company (and the movie claims he has) he would be smart enough to fire the foreman and put Max in one of those magical med-pods. When Max arrives at work you hear those corporate "safety"slogans that are modern corporations are fond of. It quickly becomes obvious that robot soldier production is unacceptably halted by this factory accident. So what happened to the "safety first" policy that exists to prevent halts in production? Why wasn't a robot called to dislodge the stuck pallet? (It would have been cheaper!) Why doesn't the company just use one of its many robots to do Max's job? Someone like Max would work 16 hours 7 days a week and live in a company barracks as long as he had unfettered access to a Med-Pod. Wouldn't the company use that as motivation? Cheap employee motivation, nearly costless health plan (a bargaining chip to offer the meagerest salary).
Because they’re mean.
And have no concept of economics.*
Max's boss is so dumb about economics that he doesn't want the poisoned Max ruining the dingy sheets on a dingy gurney in his dingy factory. (In other words, he knows about as much real world economics as anyone in Hollywood who gets paid to make up stories.) Max's boss also constantly worries about germs and pollution even though he has daily access to the magic healing machines. He's afraid the foreman will breathe on him and make him sick. How did he ever build (let alone maintain) a major corporation by sweating the small stuff? He'd rather waste the time at work training someone else than have a magic healing machine get Max back to work within MINUTES.
In fact, since Spider (the local crime lord, terrorist, and humanitarian activist) can get his hands on spaceships and has some to spare (most of which get blown out of the sky), we wonder how come he can't get his hands on some black market healing machine. We know that there are consciences on Elysium, because the President of Elysium fears the reaction of Elysiumites to shooting down invaders, so why haven't some of the George Clooneys in space donated a healing machine to Earth, after which knock-offs would appear on the black market. Spider would be charging people for access to his magic healing booth even more money than he charges for a ride to Elysium (a ride that will almost certainly end in death or prison).
In other words, there’s absolutely no good reason that the medical pods aren’t already on Earth at the beginning of Elysium. And given that access to health care is presented as the main reason that people try to get to fake citizenship and land shuttles on Elysium–the people of Earth seem remarkably uninterested in ripping off their wealthier counterparts, which is a rather saintly perspective on humanity from the man who made District 9–that suggests that providing medical pods on Earth would remove the main exit pressure for immigration, however fleeting their stays there might be. If what the residents of Elysium want is to live their lives untouched by the desperately poor citizens of Earth, then why not ship down medical pods, eliminate the most pressing needs that are spurring citizens to challenge inequality, and bleed off enough political pressure to keep your segregated world intact and separate?And there is absolutely no reason that the evil CEO doesn't have a magic healing booth for his own personal use on Earth, since he is obviously afraid of suddenly getting sick on Earth before he can get back into one, and he has a huge supply of his own robots that can keep it from being stolen from his factory. As difficult as it might be to get to, it would be easier than infiltrating Elysium. The Wolves of Wall Street on Elysium would have leaked the technology to the black market for the right price anyway, since many people always like to have more money no matter how much they have (and apparently you can't be arrested on Elysium anyway). Just ask Martha Stewart.
Also, whatever their citizenship status, the people of Los Angeles are in a heavily regulated, heavily policed welfare state. Kind of like present day California, where officers are omnipresent acting as DMV thugs collecting "emissions" protection racket, but are in short supply to investigate something like a car theft or a break-in. Max's parole officer (who is a robot and only slightly more dumb and robotic that the government workers that you must stand in line to talk to in California) practically bursts with pills to manage his criminal tendencies. So by the year 2154 progressive bureaucrats have finally unified healthcare, criminal justice, the FDA, and the ATF into a heavily regulated society (in which it is obvious that they have no 2nd Amendment rights as only soldiers and criminals are armed). It is obvious that the government expends lots of money to keep the people in line. They, in fact, keep the hospitals running, but with the sort of rationed healthcare that even Paul Krugman admits will be necessary under Obamacare and that is already painfully prevalent in England.
The healing machines are merely a symbol for what the filmmakers obviously regard as a similarly magical machine: healthcare! Just as there are already enough healing machines for everybody (just waiting to be shipped down, as we see in the movie) and there are no economic or energy factors to consider (as liberal commentator Alyssa Rosenberg points out!), so healthcare is "free." Just strip a few billionaires of their ill-gotten wealth (hopefully starting with Warren Buffett and Mark Zuckerberg) and your problems are solved! It's all from Obama's "secret stash" (i.e. from the salaries of your grandchildren). Eat the Rich!!!
Nope, the only answer is unconditional amnesty. And what can the people of Elysium do now that there is "fairness"? Once Spider has become a citizen, police robots disarm the soldiers that are about to take him into custody. The robot explains--explains to the President of Elysium (and of Earth, apparently)--that it can't arrest a citizen of Elysium. Wow, the rights of citizens are awesome! I wish I had those rights. Spider has intruded on a maximum security installation WITH GUNS, and he can't be arrested because he is a citizen. Spider immediately explains in a single sentence what can now be expected now that the largely criminal society of the entire earth can arrive in Elysium freely, can take what they want without fear of arrest, and can "rock the vote" to legislate the fate of the space station: "Guess who Elysium belongs to now!" In a single sentence he validates the unreasonable fears of the Jodie Foster's evil, fear-mongering Delacourt.
And when they do – SPOILER – finally overrun Elysium, the watcher squirms, knowing that Elysium, which is roughly the size of New York City, cannot possibly contain all of the huddled masses of the entire earth. Its wealth will be distributed and then will be gone like a whiff of air.*Kind of like how kicking out the evil exploitative colonialists out of Kenya actually made it poorer, according to George Hussein Obama (see the interview in 2016: Obama's America), contrary to the expectations of Barack Sr. and his fellow socialists (yes, socialists not fascists). Given that Elysium would have to be as wide as the moon to have the square mileage of New Jersey, the square mileage of New York City is generous estimate for a station dwarfed by Earth. (In fact, the filmmakers figured Elysium at 97 sq miles, compared to the 469 sq miles of NYC.) There isn't even room for the futuristic population of Los Angeles on Elysium. It will be less than 3 months before Elysium looks like the slums of Earth.
Here's an experiment: Let's tell the police that they can't arrest the citizens in Hollywood, that the gates of the gated communities are to be left open, and let's see how long it takes for skid row on the Miracle Mile to extend to where the actors and filmmakers live. How did they get so rich anyway without first taking from the poor? Maybe it's time the down and out took all that stuff back. Is it fair that Matt Damon and George Clooney makes millions a year while us 99%ers make so very little?
Even if the population of Earth (half of which appear to be criminals) decide out of the kindness of their hearts to forego "Occupy Elysium" and are content with healing machines, it isn't clear how Elysium holds enough healing machines for the billions on earth, even if most of Elysium were a warehouse for healing machines. People would still have to wait for months to use one, and many would die even with a team of robots prioritizing the cases. If you have a minor ailment, you might spend years waiting for your turn behind the life-or-death cases. If you didn't die getting close to the machines as others elbow their way in front of you and fight over who gets to them. This is itself a big problem since robots apparently can't arrest citizens (and they won't let anyone else arrest them either). To even get the system to work, the people who are older and likely not to live much longer anyway would become a lower priority. (Ummmm, death panels?)
Basically, your English healthcare system trying to operate in the slums of Brazil with no effective police. All that's missing is Jerry Brown. In the scenario given by the movies, the ship full of healing machines didn't have enough robots to keep order among the literally tens of thousands of people that would eventually swamp it all at once. Not unless they were free to harm disorderly citizens of Elysium, which they supposedly are not.
Which brings us to the filmmakers' attitude toward the military. What would Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) be without the sadistic mercenaries she employees? These are called "sleeper agents" because apparently there is some advantage to having them live in total squalor. When "undocumented" ships carrying "illegals" try to land on Elysium, the Secretary of "Homeland Security" tells a sleeper agent in the slums to point a special rocket launcher into the sky. The rockets automatically find the ships that are approaching Elysium without any special human expertise. Which begs the question: Why couldn't a robot or drone point the same rocket at the sky from some hidden location outside Los Angeles? And wouldn't it be easier, safer, and more economic to launch rockets from Elysium? No, we'll keep an arsenal of ground-to-space rockets in the middle of a freedomfighter/terrorist population in the safekeeping of a psychotic sadist who keeps them in his tumbled-down shack. Sounds legit.
The main purpose of the mercenary "sleeper" agents is for the filmmakers to denounce the military (remind you of White House Down?). It's a contrived nod to al Ghraib (and possibly to the hushed up sexual violence against women now rampant in the co-ed military). Why does Secretary Delacourt need a team of cyborganically enhanced rapists when she already has an army of robots programmed to follow her command? Which reminds me... The only way for a system reboot to install a new President is if the robots listen to whomever the Elysium operating system tells them.
Notice it is not election day in the movie. Elysiumites are going to wonder how a computer reboot gave them a new President. The only way for Delacourt to claim power is to silence the opposition with the support of the robot army. Ultimately, the movie favors a robot army over human soldiers: the robots eventually join the Occupy Elysium movement, and become a force for good. For the filmmakers, the problem is not the fact that there is a robot army that can potentially enforce any power grab over an unarmed populace (soldiers incapable of questioning whether it is un-Constitutional or unethical) but that there are evil "corporationy" corporations at large.
Which brings us full circle to the magical simplicity of the film.
At the end of the movie, three military coups are actually in progress. Three different groups are trying to take control of the government, so that Elysium's riches can be accessed. In the end, DeCosta and Spider's rebellion prevails and the right to free healthcare is magically endowed on all living by changing a single line of source code in the initialization file for Elysium's operating system. There is a specific line that contains the citizenship status for all of Earth. Spider changes the entry from ILLEGAL to LEGAL. (Whew, that was easy!) Darren Frannich at PopWatch writes:
The only way this could have been less subtle would have been if Spider had found a line in Elysium’s code marked:Which seems to neatly sum up the Progressive/Liberal argument against any conservative position, at least in the last ten years.
MORAL CODE OF THIS DECADENT FUTURE CIVILIZATION WHICH IS SYMBOLIC OF CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY: EVIL
And rewrote it to be:
MORAL CODE OF THIS DECADENT FUTURE CIVILIZATION WHICH IS SYMBOLIC OF CONTEMPORARY SOCIETY: GOOD
Politically inclined drama — even in blaster-wielding B-movie form — is best when it reveals how knotty our social problems are, and plays with viewer sympathies for both sides of the argument. “Elysium” barely recognizes that there are any valid arguments to be had. Instead, there’s good and evil, humble struggling citizens and callous elites — and nothing in between. *Why would there be anything in between? There are nothing but shades of gray until its conservative vs. liberal, and then it's all black and white. There is no value in demonizing anyone, terrorist or freedomfighter, unless you're talking about those morally reprehensible Republicans. Everything must be intellectually nuanced, unless of course we are forcefeeding our progressive policies on a recalcitrant public.
Variety praised the film glowingly for advancing one of the “more openly socialist political agendas of any Hollywood movie in memory, beating the drum loudly not just for universal health care, but for open borders, unconditional amnesty and the abolition of class distinctions as well.” When Spider says, "Guess who owns Elysium now," it makes me think of Obama's message to the Latino community: "Punish your enemies."