August 13, 2013
Elysium is a thinly-veiled promotion of a rather liberal political agenda, especially with respect to immigration and healthcare reform. One can gather that quickly by watching the movie or reading the reviews of moviegoers on yahoo. But I would have enjoyed the movie anyway if it had been more complete.
Sorry to spoil the rather unoriginal and predictable plot, but here it is in all its simplicity: 150 years into the future, our planet Earth is ruined by overpopulation and poverty such that the entire earth looks like a third world country. Everyone in LA speaks Spanish and/or is Hispanic. The elite of the world (wealthy, intelligent, educated, etc.), build a huge space station called “Elysium” to, and I quote, “preserve their way of life” (though the film does little if anything to show what that “way of life” looks like; we are supposed to assume it’s ideal with whatever that might mean to us–kind of like Heaven, I suppose). Elysium has free (and perfect) healthcare in the form of body-scanning machines that can heal a person from essentially every malady short of complete death (it can even do reconstructive facial surgery and restore someone who had his face blown off by an explosive, looking good as new after the healthcare scan). To get the bodyscan, a person needs both to be on Elysium and be a citizen of Elysium. They refer to all non-citizens as “illegals,” and Jodie Foster’s character heads up a group called “Homeland Security” (yes, the metaphor is that obvious) to protect Elysium from intruders, but the dark-skinned “president” essentially undermines the Homeland Security efforts, leading Foster’s evil character to stage a coup to protect Elysium. Meanwhile, Matt Damon’s character lives on earth, gets sick, has 5 days to live, and needs to get to Elysium to get that body scan to heal himself as well as his friend’s daughter, who has leukemia.
There was potential for this movie but they didn’t explore the pertinent questions arising out of such a plotline nearly enough.
For instance, were the people on Elysium happy in their isolated (and supposedly trouble-free) world? What was life like for them? Did they at least have “first world problems“, or was this a symbolic utopia of sorts?
Was it immoral for the citizens of Elysium to build Elysium at the outset and/or to take the best and brightest from the world and stick them up in Elysium? (If so, it’s likewise immoral for America to allow the best and brightest of other nations to emmigrate to the U.S., contributing to brain-drain in third world countries, which could actually mean permitting unlimited immigration would sometimes be immoral, not benevolent).
Is the existence of Elysium itself (or the imbalance of wealth in any closed system) an instance of injustice? If it didn’t exist at all, apparently no one would have healthcare, unless the best and brightest of Elysium were somehow forced into providing healthcare to everyone everywhere (and how would we force them to do so without paying them–making them elite, the kind of elitists that we from the outset held were an example of injustice–or forcing slavery, which we also find disgusting?).
To put that last question another way, more broadly: is it unjust that Oprah owns eight homes while I only rent one (and some people are entirely homless, or living with multiple families in the same dwelling)? Is an imbalance of wealth itself an inherent injustice? Is it immoral anytime any of us earns more than the median world salary (a small number that will shock your conscience) and fails to donate the entire surplus to those below that line to even things up? Isn’t this movie saying that the general imbalance of resources and happiness between Earth and Elysium is in itself immoral (notwithstanding that everybody who helped make that movie likely lives an extravagant lifestyle, at least from a world-wide perspective)? If the movie is saying that, does it not also suggest by implication that we are a nation of hypocrites and psychopaths, but not much else?
Were there scarce health-care resources on Elysium, such that the masses on Earth would consume up the health-care “machines”, creating an underclass of the unhealthy anyway? If there was no such scarcity, why did the people on Elysium keep those machines from being delivered to earth rather than sending reproductions (or even just one or two) of these impersonal machines (which apparently did not even need maintenance or a personal expert to operate, or at least the movie did not indicate such a need)? Were the citizens of Elysium presumed to be psychopaths with nothing but contempt for all outsiders (and in fact a positive desire to harm or starve outsiders), rather than protectors of their limited goods? (Even in wealthy America, we participate in and fund global relief efforts, however effective or ineffective that may be.) If the citizens of Elysium were that evil, shouldn’t we just blow the whole edifice up rather than allow these Stalin-like creatures to continue profiting from building such machines? Or would we disapprove of forcing them to labor on our behalf here on “Earth” (the third world country)?
Additionally, as a somewhat irrelevant side note, imagine how long the wait lines would be on an overpopulated earth seeking to exploit the machines that were built only to serve an elite few rather than billions. Can the machines break from overuse? Will people harm each other to cut in line? Will the gate-keepers of the line allow their friends and family a place of privilege so that they get the best machines and spend the smallest amount of time in line? These machines are unlikely to turn the third world Earth cesspool into a utopia just through healthcare. At least, the problems of poverty and crime would still persist.
There are just way too many unanswered questions. This movie might have been an ambitious mini-series on TV, and I would love to have seen these issues explored (even if with a liberal or other agenda), but the movie fails to deliver in an intellectually-satisfying way. That’s unfortunate.
Update: It just occurred to me, this movie could be seen (ironically) as a pro-life metaphorical argument. The citizens of “earth” could be unborn humans, whereas the elites on Elysium could be people who have been born. The people on Elysium (metaphors for mothers) are entirely in control of whether the earthlings (metaphors for unborn babies) can have healthcare and live. However, the earthlings pose a threat to the comfortable way of living for those on Elysium, and the citizens of Elysium want to “preserve their way of life.” When someone from earth finally “gets through” against the will of those on Elysium (say, for example, a child of a failed abortion), that person fights with all his/her might to end the denial of life for the earthlings. In this interpretation, the movie metaphor wouldn’t even go far enough, because mothers and their unborn babies have a far more intimate (and morally obligatory) relationship than that between the citizens of Elysium and Earth.
September 11, 2009
I thought that title might grab you. I got to thinking about it because of a recent NCIS television episode wherein one character references Islamic terrorist bombing and another character responds that it’s no different than an abortion clinic bombing. But isn’t it?
I certainly have no plans to bomb any buildings, but anyone who skims this blog will quickly figure out that I am decidedly pro-life. That means I believe that an abortion is a murder of a full-fledged, innocent human being. Whether or not you are pro-life, indulge if you will for just a moment the presupposition that an unborn person is every bit a human person entitled to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness that you and I are. Imagine that there are buildings where innocent living children, or even adults, are taken against their will and murdered, sometimes even having their limbs yanked off without anesthesia. Once you indulge the pro-life position on unborn human beings (i.e. step in my shoes), you must admit that an abortion clinic is the moral equivalent of a gas chamber within the confines of Auschwitz.
Would it have been moral to sneak into Auschwitz and blow up a gas chamber? Empty, or even with the guilty Nazis in it? Those questions, considered in isolation from any reference to abortion, would surely give the Hollywood script writers a bit more to think about. Indeed, when a black man murders a white redneck who might get away with raping the black man’s daughter, he is heralded as a hero in the fictional movie A Time to Kill. It is not as though the Hollywood writers are unfamiliar with or opposed to the concept of justifiable homicide. This fact underscores that the Hollywood writers assume the pro-choice position to be correct (also implying that the pro-life position is nothing more than “crazy”) when writing their stories; the snide abortion-clinic bomber remarks prove nothing but to evidence the writers’ unsupported presuppositions.
But the question of whether it is morally permissible to blow up the Nazi gas chambers (the instruments of death), or even the entire death camps, with or without the killing of Nazis (perhaps the bombings could take place at midnight while empty, or perhaps with Nazi guards in them), requires much examination, and I do not intend to answer that question here.
I need not answer that moral question to address whether abortion clinic bombings are justified. Whether or not the bombings would be morally permissible if they prevented abortions and saved lives, the fact is that such bombings do not prevent abortions and do not ultimately save lives. Even if the abortion clinic bombers blew up all the clinics and killed all the abortion doctors at exactly the same time (thereby preventing some abortions and causing more live births), more doctors and clinics would immediately replace them, and public support would swiftly turn to the abortionists’ favor. The abortion war in the United States is at the present time a public relations one, not one of force like in Nazi Germany. Bombing abortion clinics only gives pro-choice media forces more ammunition, and we see those messages sent out in televisions shows (like the NCIS episode referenced above) and even in the news. The media and the pro-choice movement have been capitalizing on these incidents since at least 1994. If one wants to prevent abortions, one must work on changing public opinions and changing laws. This war cannot be won by force. Therefore, the use of force against abortionists, even if it could be justified in other circumstances, is unjustified in the U.S. on a macro-scale because the purported justification is illusory.
(Note: my argument above does not support the common argument that abortion should not be made illegal because “they will happen anyway.” Making abortion illegal will without question reduce the number of abortions and save a great number of innocent lives. The fact that some women will ignore the law and commit crimes is not a reason to curtail the law to accommodate criminals’ behavior.)