Wouldn't it be nice to just get away from it all?
Well, in the late 21st century, several thousand rich people do just that. Fed up with the world's crime and poverty and pollution and death, these well-heeled folks say auf Wiedersehen to terra firma and hoof it up to a fancy new space station where they can play polo as much as they'd like. They call the satellite station Elysium, and it is still, in 2154, rather heavenly. The buildings are uniformly attractive, the parks sprawling and lush; robots seem to do most of the grunt work. Oh, and if someone should get sick up there? No worries. Everyone seems to own nifty little body scanners that can heal almost instantly.
But this health care system (despite floating way up in space) is far from universal. Folks on Earth still have to buy Band-Aids for their boo-boos—or get sick and die if a bandage or cast won't get the job done. Worse, the world looks like one big infection risk, with everyone living in overpopulated ghettos without a green space in sight.
Max used to imagine going up to Elysium. He even told his childhood friend, Frey, that he'd take her there someday. But it's hard to earn the kind of cash needed to gain entry to this fortified satellite of luxe—and the fact that Max's profession for a while was armed robbery, well, that kinda nailed the guy firmly to the planet below. It's not like anyone would ever let a man like him into Elysium.
Not that Max isn't trying to get his life back together. He now works at a local android manufacturing place and makes an honest semi-living. He just ran into Frey again, and she agrees to have coffee with him. So things are looking up. As much as they can down here, at any rate.
But then Max accidentally absorbs a lethal dose of radiation. He's got five days left to live, he's told—and he's not even given a day off to die properly. He decides he needs to get to Elysium and hop in one of its nifty healing trays. But how?
Only by returning to his life of crime.
An earthbound mastermind who goes by the name Spider has a little job for Max: Kidnap a visiting business tycoon, then download some info from the guy's brain. As soon as he does that eensy-weensy job, he'll be good to go. Sure, chances of success are slim. But since he'll be dead anyway in less than a week if he does nothing, it's not like his situation could get any worse.
Turns out, things can always get worse.
Max embarks on his mission for purely selfish (if understandable) reasons: He doesn't want to die. But after he meets Frey's cancer-riddled daughter, his outlook slowly changes. By the time he actually makes it onto the satellite, he's not just trying to get to Elysium for himself, but for the little girl, Matilda, as well. In fact, he decides her life is more important than his own, and he begins to make decisions accordingly.
Max gets some help along the way. His friend Carlos nurses him after he gets sick and helps him during his mission. Frey, a nurse, patches up a seriously injured Max as best she can, even though she knows she could get in trouble for it.
And—well, that's about it. Altruism isn't a lauded societal attribute in 2154, which is partly the point of the movie. Elysium has a deeper purpose than just encouraging you to eat popcorn. While it makes its points rather ham-handedly at times, they're still worth some thought. And if we sidestep today's debates over socialized-vs.-privatized health care, I think we can all still agree that cheap, instant, cure-all services should probably be available to little girls with leukemia, no matter where their mothers live.
Max and Frey were orphans raised by nuns. While we don't hear much praying being done, the sisters are kind and well-meaning. One nun takes a special interest in Max, discouraging his fledgling interest in petty thievery and telling him he's destined for great things. "You will do something very special one day," she says. "Something you were born for."
[Spoiler Warning] We Christians may quibble with that nod to fate. But it's an interesting theme, given that Max turns into something of a Christ-like figure, sacrificing his life for the sake of millions. He eventually reboots Elysium's computers to give Matilda access to the healing machines. And the reboot not only opens the door for her, but for everyone living below. Soon, health care droids are shuttling down to the surface to dole out healing to everyone.
Is it an accident, then, that in a movie titled with a word that means heaven, Max, through his death, like Christ, saves the whole world—giving us access to glory through grace (not merit or money)?
A bad guy threatens to rape Frey. (He's stopped.) Another sniffs her hair and suggests he may have the same thing on his mind. Some female residents of Elysium strut about in bikinis.
Max is roughed up by two droid policemen, one of whom breaks his arm. (We see the blow's impact and get a gander at the resulting wound.) He fights multiple people throughout the film who inflict a variety of stab wounds and injuries. He and others punch, kick and throw people around.
In what's perhaps the film's most gory scene, a man has the majority of his face blown off. The guy somehow survives. And we see his cratered cranium before a machine heals him.
A man is stabbed with a sword. Another is shot in the chest and bleeds to death; his assailants pay no mind to his injuries and instead concentrate on downloading information from his brain. A woman dies after getting skewered in the neck with a piece of glass. Another is punched in the face. Someone has embedded machinery ripped from his body. A couple of people literally explode. Others fall from great heights. Shuttles full of civilians are shot down with missiles, killing more than 40. One shuttle makes it, but the people in it are quickly rounded up, and some are killed. Robots are blown to smithereens, and one has its head pulled off.
After he gets sick and agrees to do a job for Spider, Max is fitted with a motorized exoskeleton that's screwed straight into his body. We see "doctors" (they look more like mechanics, frankly), slice into Max's middle and mess around with his innards. They drill straight into his back and head, and we see trickles of blood ooze from the holes.
Crude or Profane Language
Between 60 and 70 f-words. More than a dozen s-words. We see two obscene hand gestures. Add to that "a‑‑," "b‑‑ch," "h‑‑‑," "p‑‑‑y" and "p‑‑‑ed." Jesus' name is abused three or four times. God's is misused at least twice, and is once paired with "d‑‑n."
Drug and Alcohol Content
People drink beer. One man, after taking a few swigs, throws the bottle off a rooftop and swears at passersby. Several characters smoke cigarettes and what looks to be pot.
A regimen of pills follows Max's radiation poisoning. And he takes a whole handful of them in one go when he knows that his need for them—one way or another—is coming to an end. When talking with his robotic parole officer, Max is offered a sedative.
Other Negative Elements
Max is urged to help break into someone's house and steal a few cars. He refuses, but it's obvious that he was once a legend in L.A.'s criminal underworld. He projectile vomits after he gets sick.
Elysium was written and directed by Neill Blomkamp, the South African wunderkind who exploded onto the American movie scene with District 9 in 2009. His two movies have a similar feel: Both are sci-fi action romps with a surprising level of political purpose and emotional depth. Both deal, in their own ways, with the haves and have-nots—aliens, as it were, excluded from important aspects of society and civilization.
"Everybody wants to ask me lately about my prediction for the future, whether I think this is what will happen in 140 years," Blomkamp told Entertainment Weekly. "No, no, no. This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now."
Politics aside, then, props are due for Blomkamp trying to turn Elysium into something more than merely another R-rated actioner, and the spiritual musings, if intended, are intriguing too.
But like District 9, this flick is simply overwhelmed by its graphic content and roughhewn language, its story pulled under by blood and gore, its messages nearly drowned by f-words.
One of those struggling-for-air messages in Elysium is that it'd behoove us all to be a little kinder to those around us, a little more thoughtful—particularly when it comes to the poor. When it comes to the poor people in the movie theater, though, Blomkamp shows little mercy.