Max: “I need to get to Elysium.”
But, the people on Elysium are all rich and healthy. They don’t want to welcome the power and the sick. Visually, Elysium is white and pristine, while Earth is like a grimy desert. Earlier in the movie, we see the rich people have no problem shooting down the poor, and I mean with missiles and an assassin named Kruger. So, to get around this Max visits his buddy Spider who outfits him with a cyborg exosuit that contains all of Elysium’s data.
Astute William Gibson readers will notice this is the exact plot of the 1981 short story Johnny Mnemonic, only the affluent Megacorporations are in space, and the assassins aren’t with the Yakuza. A good amount of the film is in Spanish, whereas “Johnny Mnemonic” favored Japanese as the local language. Those similarities aside, Max tells his romantic partner he’s going to Elysium, and she wants her daughter to come with him, because she has leukemia, and they can cure disease on Elysium.
One of the things Max’s cyborg body has the power to do is shut down Elysium. After a raid on Kruger’s men, Max’s buddies are wounded and looking for a way to get to Elysium, now that they have leverage. Frey’s (The romantic interest) daughter tells him a cute story about a monkey standing on a hippo’s back to get all the fruits it wants. From there, he gets the idea to threaten suicide if not taken on a ship. Again, that’s straight from Gibson…but, as Gibson is the father of cyberpunk, where there’s no middle class, it’s hard to escape his influence when making a cyberpunk movie.
I don’t know, I probably spoiled enough already, but then the movie becomes sort of predictable. There’s a big fight with Kruger on Elysium, and then he reboots Elysium to allow Earth citizens. One of the things I liked about it was that it shows the differences in class very well visually. Some Earth stuff is high-tech, but it doesn’t exist to serve them. Also, the people on Elysium abuse the language of disease to characterize Earth’s population. John Carlyle, the evil Secretary’s associate quips: “You think I like breathing this air?”
Everything on Earth is considered a burden, in true cyberpunk fashion. The only piece of technology that really serves the low class (as in Johnny Mnemonic!) is the protagonist’s cybernetic access to data the high class needs, and it’s part of his body. This theme always appeals to me as a disability theorist. How technology gives us strength! And along with the data, Max’s exosuit also grants him increased strength, because essentially he’s covered in a robotic chassis.
While such robotic technology appeals to me, I can’t help but think it might be used to “cure” the disability experience, which is my choice to live. Certainly, medical themes are prominent throughout Elysium. But, those are in life-threatening cases. The point is that just because someone has a disease, doesn’t mean they are a disease, and Elysium drives that home well!
In conclusion, it has some cyberpunk tropes that I’ve seen before…down to the computer expert named Spider who outfit’s the hero. But, it’s been a while since I’ve seen an honest-to-goodness cyberpunk action movie! So, I loved it! It’s got great action, with assassins and cyborg battles dominating most the movie. I just wish they didn’t draw so heavily from Johnny Mnemonic. (And no, I don’t mean the 1996 movie adaptation…though maybe I’ll review that later.)
Fans of cyberpunk and sci-fi should be pleased. Max could’ve been Keanu Reeves! (That’s a Johnny Mnemonic joke!) Matt Damon seems to draw from his Bourne Identity experience, and delivers a strong, socially conscious action hero that works well in the cyberpunk genre, showing the benefit of technology mixed with humanity. As far as a rating, I’ll give this movie a solid B!