This past weekend, District 9 opened to rave reviews and the highest box office earnings of the weekend. While in many ways the film exhibits the classic markings of a big-budget science fiction adventure, reviewers contrasted it explicitly and implicitly with the mind-numbingly silly Transformers 2 and G. I. Joes with comments like, “It’s nice to see a movie where some serious thought has been put into reviving a stale genre” (from Peter Howell of The Toronto Star), and “If you’re looking for the late-summer special-effects action fantasy with big franchise potential, forget about G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra. . . . . Instead, proceed directly to District 9” (from Richard Corliss of TIME Magazine). Clearly, if you review movies for a living, District 9 stands out from the pack.
Unfortunately, the movie may not be as smart as it thinks it is. While I felt the film was well-made and entertaining, the plot’s twists and turns felt contrived at times. Various details challenged my willing suspension of disbelief, and I left the screening with so many questions, I couldn’t help but feel a bit dissatisfied. With that in mind, I list my questions below:
1) Why did the prawns land on earth in the first place?
2) Why are the Nigerians permitted to openly exploit the prawns?
3) Why does the jet fuel for Christopher’s ship cause Wikus to become a prawn?
4) With such heavy artillery and great physical strength, why don’t the prawns rise up against the humans?
5) Why is the alien character named “Christopher Thompson,” rather than some kind of alien name?
A bigger concern about the film: why are the injustices against the prawns told primarily through the view of humans? I understand the effect: the pseudo-documentary style frames the events from the human perspective so that when later scenes render certain prawns sympathetic, they jarringly undermine the audience’s prejudices. But ultimately, I felt the film never fully overturned the initial assumptions of the human characters. The prawns remain hapless and mysterious, and while I sympathized with them, I never felt fully engaged with their plight.
Of course, a sequel could answer these questions, and I would encourage writer/director Neill Blomkamp to focus the next chapter of this story around Christopher rather than Wikus. While Wikus may be easier to identify with on a cosmetic level, Christopher proves to be the more compelling character. A view into his story would also bring the apartheid themes (pushed oddly to the background, as Daniel Engbar points out in his Slate.com piece) to the forefront. Hopefully in a few summers, we’ll be getting the progressive allegory that the film’s trailers advertised but didn’t quite deliver.