My interest in District 9 was piqued when I read a rave review by Roger Ebert, who praised the film for “giving us aliens to remind us not everyone who comes in a spaceship need be angelic, octopod or stainless steel.” Plus the fact that this movie managed to stand its own in the box-office despite being released on the same date as “Inglourious Basterds” also pretty much made it mandatory for me to catch this movie sometime soon. Call it poetic justice that I managed to see this almost immediately after the Basterds.
More than 25 yrs after a large alien spaceship starts hovering over Johannesburg, close to 2 million aliens are now well settled in District 9. Sometime around mid-2010, Multinational United, MNU which is in charge of policing District 9 and the Govt decide to relocate these aliens to District 10 outside of Johannesburg city. The movie begins with Wikus van de Merwe, an MNU field operative, who is in charge of the relocation efforts, starting off on his efforts of serving eviction notices to the ‘prawns’, as the aliens are derogatorily called by the residents of Jo’burg. While this entire exercise goes horribly wrong, Wikus himself is seriously affected as he accidentally sprays some alien liquid on his face. He slowly begins to transform into a prawn himself and unwittingly becomes a victim of a corporate conspiracy by MNU to try and harvest the immense power of alien weaponry (which can be activated only the prawns themselves).
Wikus manages to escape from his captors, and has to rely on Christopher, the prawn who was actually collecting the liquid when Wikus ended up spraying it on himself. What follows in the rest of the movie is the unfolding of a plot by Christopher to try and energize his own smaller spacecraft to dock with the mothership, the Nigerian mafia in District 9 trying to capture Wikus to try and use his ‘alien abilities’ to use the alien weaponry and MNU’s relentless pursuit to capture Wikus for their own purposes.
The movie ends with a nicely scripted and picturized action sequence, which could probably hold its own against any regular action movie. And the last 20 odd minutes of this movie puts it straight in the ‘science fiction action movie’ genre. All in all, a must watch movie for anybody who likes a good story, however unbelievable it might be.
What makes this movie interesting from a film-making point of view is the way in which it uses the documentary format of narrating the story. Snippets of interviews from Wikus’ colleagues, family and friends are used to tell us the story. CCTV footage from various locations such as MNU offices, ATM machines, MNU choppers, news cameras etc are interspersed at all the right places in the movie which gives it a completely different feel from any other movie which I have seen so far. And the casting of the completely unknown Sharlto Copley in the role of Wikus is a brainwave by any stretch of imagination.
Some of the themes that this movie deals with are relevant even for interpersonal relationships between humans. The sheer volumes of mistrust and hatred shown by the humans towards prawns (especially given the setting of South Africa) reminds us more than once of the apartheid policies followed in that country, not too long ago. While the movie itself dabbles in the genre of science fiction, the under-currents of the themes of racial profiling, corporate conspiracies, sheer callousness of governments of using other species as experimental specimens are all themes which remain with us after we finish watching the movie.