Archive for November 15th, 2012

I am the walrus: A bumbling functionary gets things moving in ‘District 9’

November 15, 2012

Writer-director Neill Blomkamp spins an absorbing science fiction tale in his outstanding 2009 debut feature, District 9.

The story is centered on a pleasant, bumbling corporate drone named Wikus Van De Merwe. (His first name is pronounced “VICK-us,” I believe; I confess to having no idea how his surname should be pronounced, even though it’s spoken multiple times throughout the movie.) A mid-level manager for MNU, a multi-national corporation, Van De Merwe (played by Sharlto Copley) has just won a big promotion: He will lead the effort to resettle the residents of a large slum near Johannesburg.

This being a science fiction movie, those residents are not black people but aliens. The prawns arrived in 1982 when their massive spaceship came to hover over the South African metropolis. Although it wasn’t clear why they traveled to Earth, the malnourished aliens — evidently leaderless and unable to control their vessel — were resettled in the so-called District 9. In Johannesburg circa 2010, they are looked upon by many South Africans, black and white, with roughly the same contempt that white residents of the nation visited upon black residents during its segregationist apartheid era.

Early on in the eviction effort, Van De Merwe discovers a mysterious device in one alien’s shack. Before he can bag and confiscate the item, it sprays him in the face. Within hours, his body begins changing — his fingernails fall out, he loses control of his bowels and he vomits at a party.

It soon becomes apparent that Van De Merwe is being turned into a prawn by the fluid. MNU discovers that he is capable of operating prawn weapons, something humans had previously been unable to do because the technology is inert unless used by those with alien genes. Van De Merwe is slated for vivisection.

He escapes and flees to District 9, where he begins to unravel the mystery of what is happening to him and how the changes can be reversed. In so doing, he forms an uneasy alliance with one alien — and he sets in motion a chain of portentous events.

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