I caught District 9 this weekend with some friends, and it simultaneously delighted and horrified me. One of my companions had explained beforehand that the film was based on director Neil Blomkamp’s experiences growing up in a slum in South Africa, and that knowledge definitely informed my viewing experience and infused it with even more empathy and understanding. How clever to conceptualize a marginalized people as actual aliens in order to demonstrate, through dramatic action, the ties that bind all of us together. The film is sprinkled throughout with examples of injustice: the mandatory 24 hour relocation of the aliens, the gangs who sell cat food to the creatures at inflated prices, the treatment of Wikus when he begins to transform, the people who turn on him once he’s viewed as somewhat “less than human,” etc etc. Yet what District 9 does so well is remind us that regardless of culture, regardless of racial background, we are all connected. Take the moment when Wikus decides to try to distance the “alien” part of himself by taking a cleaver and chopping off the blackened alien appendage. What happens? It does nothing–he continues to transform, thereby cutting himself off from his wife and all that he knew. In a way, his situation parallels that of the alien, Chris Johnson, and his adorable son (I was a sucker for that one, brilliant and cute!) Chris and Wikus simply want to be able to return home, and thankfully, (we assume) Chris is able to do so.
Another question to address: Does Wikus deserve his fate because of his mistreatment of the aliens at the opening? What about the babies he laughingly kills? Is his transformation karmic, or is it simply meant to teach him (or both?) Do we appreciate his excruciating transformation by the close of the film? I felt as if I’d lived an entire lifetime by the close of the film, and despite my horror of the frequent mistreatment of the aliens and Wikus, it made me appreciate my life. It also made me want to pray for all of those in slums in South Africa, India, America, etc, because the slums were almost run like a prison with bullies, fear, and little food.
And also, let this film remind us that injustice against others is always wrong, and failing to heed that will bring dire consequences.