I knew we were in trouble when all the previews were horror films. But when "District 9" started, the tone was very different, like a documentary. For a while. The premise of the film was on the one hand intriguing: some 2 million plus aliens are stranded in Johannesburg, South Africa. After 20 years, the "camp" where they were rounded up has devolved into a slum. As a result of xenophobia and fear, the aliens, called "prawns" by the natives, are about to be forcibly relocated to a camp farther from town.
On the other hand, let's just stop a minute to think about that. After traversing vast interstellar distances, the command module of the mothership just fell out, leaving the mothership moribund (but hanging effortlessly in the sky over Jotown) and it took 20 years to find and refuel it? As premises go, it's a little lame. But hey, I'm watching a movie about aliens, so suspending disbelief is certainly an option.
It's hard not to cringe at the all-too-accurate portrayal of the worst of human behavior. The film was itself modeled on "district 6" in the days of apartheid, a holding area for blacks which was then declared a "whites only" area. Moreover, "District 9" shows the arrogance of military-backed abrogation of civil rights, medical experimentation, the gleeful slaughter of baby aliens, and the trade of food for weapons.
But "District 9" also features a dual transformation: a psychological change in the petty bureaucrat charged with implementing the relocation, triggered by a physiological change in which he literally starts to identify with the aliens. And we begin to get a different view of the aliens, whose language, technology, and culture are clearly complex.
Unanswered: this species seems to put a lot of attention on weaponry. There's a suggestion that they have a beehive-like social organization: a leader class, and drones. But do we know anything else about their social structures? No. Why did they come in the first place? Unknown. How was their language come to be understood, and by whom? Unknown. How often does the command module fall out of the ship upon docking? Unknown.
But after all the pyrotechnics of exploding bodies, ripped off heads, handheld cameras all jittery in the slums, etc., you find yourself eager for a little peace and quiet.
The end is a classic science fiction twist: you become your enemy. The possibility for love and redemption is made clear. So all in all, a fascinating movie -- but at least two members of my family watched a lot of it with their eyes closed.