Note: Some broader plot points of Elysium are discussed below, as are some more specific plot points of District 9. So, you know, light spoilers and such.
I joked on Twitter a few weeks back that I’m extremely good at reading into films crypto-conservative messages that aren’t actually there. (See, for instance, my suggestion that Star Trek Into Darkness postures as an anti-drone film but, in fact, succinctly makes the pro-drone case.) So, if you’ll indulge my silliness for a moment, please allow me to explain why Elysium—which has been criticized by some on the right as a not-so-subtle plea for universal healthcare—is secretly* an anti-Obamacare film.
Consider, for instance, that residents of Earth appear to have made absolutely no progress when it comes to healthcare in almost a century and a half. Broken bones are set with casts and childhood diseases like Leukemia are still deadly. Is this not a tacit admission that government interference in health care stifles innovation, just as libertarians and conservatives warned it would?
Meanwhile, as the quality of care has stagnated so has the quantity of care. Hospitals are overcrowded, wait times are long, and care is now rationed (think of Alice Braga’s daughter, who is forced to exit the hospital even though she has a life-threatening illness because there aren’t enough beds). Every doctor is a death panel in this dystopian future.
“But wait,” I hear you saying. “There have been medical advances! The wealthy people on the space station have those Magical Medpods that magically heal them! With magic!” I think it’s important to understand that we’re dealing with a metaphor here. The Magical Medpods are stand-ins for a fleet of pricey, private doctors who make house calls for the rich and famous—a situation that already exists, it should be noted, and will only grow more common as Obamacare is implemented and those who can afford it opt to pay for care with cash.
Speaking of the Magical Medpods, it’s worth pointing out that their economics make no sense whatsoever. The wealthy seem to withhold the advances from the poor for no reason other than spite—a remarkably odd idea, given the fact that the space station is replete with rapacious Randians. They are capitalists of the first order, a callous lot who would rather a man die in agony at home because the bossman doesn’t want to spring for new sheets in the factory infirmary after his skin sloughs off from radiation poisoning.** You’re telling me these disciples of the almighty dollar wouldn’t be willing to make a buck or a billion selling these Magical Medpods to the desperate plebes below? Absurd. I can’t help but feel that this childish caricature is a subtle critique of the constant attacks on Obamacare opponents, who are accused by the likes of Ezra Klein of simply being content to watch people die.***
This isn’t the first time a nominally progressive film of Neill Blomkamp’s has harbored deeply reactionary tendencies. District 9 is frequently described as a critique of apartheid (Blomkamp grew up in South Africa during the fall of the white supremacist regime). But it’s a remarkably problematic critique, if you think about it: after all, the Prawn who are forced to live in the ghettos are, by and large, mindless animals addicted to drugs**** who breed like cockroaches. Meanwhile, actual black South Africans are portrayed as machete-wielding savages who believe in witch doctors and subscribe to the notion that consuming the flesh of your enemy will grant you his strength. I’m honestly surprised more people on the left haven’t made a bigger deal about this.
Anyway, one must look below the surface to find the secret meanings of deeply political works like Elysium. Once you do, you might be surprised by what you find.
*By “secretly,” I mean “accidentally.” But it’s always fun to play Straussian for a day.
**Seriously: That’s a thing that happens in Elysium. I’m surprised the great William Fichtner, who plays the heartless billionaire, didn’t grow a mustache for that scene so he could evilly twirl it.
***I assume it’s not actually a critique at all and is, in fact, just lazy writing and/or a window into the brain of director/writer Neill Blomkamp. Forget it, I’m rolling.
****Well, technically, it’s cat food. But simple cat food might as well be Heisenberg’s blue meth to the Prawn.