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August 20, 2009

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J.

I agree with most of your points and with your feelings about the movie in general. I had a very complicated reaction to the Nigerians, but it was definitely mitigated by the depiction of the corrupt, equally avaricious whites. It's not often that misanthopy redeems a movie, but there you go.

I'm really not sure about the description of the prawns as "violent, dangerous and destructive" as being their main characteristics. I think Christopher Anderson gives the lie to that. Maybe I'm giving the director too much credit, but it felt to me like a pretty accurate showing of what happens to a minority forced into a slum condition. Life becomes pretty brutal, nasty and cheap. No one knows their language, their social structure (whatever that might have been) is totally decimated, for all of their advanced technology, there's no way for them to go home and they're not being assimilated into the society they've found themselves in. I think that's pretty good breeding ground for the kinds of behavior we saw. I think one of the great subversive things about the movie is that we see the actions of the "prawns" but we get the explanations and descriptions from the humans. I felt a lot of diconnect between the two. But that may be just me.

Simon Crowe

There's a half-assed justification at the beginning when it's asserted that the aliens found in the ship are not the "leaders" of the race. (Christopher and his friend who gets killed excepted I guess) Throw in the two decades of oppression and that's where the boorish behavior comes from. It also accounts for a storytelling weakness; late in the film when alien and human are fleeing through the ghetto I found myself wondering where all the other aliens had gone.

Josh

The movie made me feel really guilty. I thought the prawns were horribly ugly and frightening and could almost see why they were segregated. My reaction, of course, made my totally uncomfortable.

Did it bother anybody else that the humans and the prawns could understand one another even though they were speaking different languages?

isaac

hey josh,

I know what you mean about the guilt. That's the point iw as trying to make about how the "prawns" not being noble made the film more sophisticated... a worthy sequel thematically to Starship Troopers, which is a film essentially about fascism from the POV of fascists.

Anyway... I thought the different language thing was pure Sci-Fi trope, so it didn't both me. Everyone seems able to understand both R2 and Chewy in the Star Was movies, regardless of what language they speak!

J.

Actually, as a point, I think the movie makes it clear that the aliens and the humans don't really understand each other, beyond basic, almost physical indications. The subtitles we get for the alien language doesn't really match what Wiks and his friends say. And, as a plot point, the more he can understand Christopher, the more alien he's becoming.

And, yes, I agree that making the aliens as alien as possible is part of the point.

Joshua James

One thought that I had, while watching the first part of the movie (the documentary part) when they're describing the "prawn" as scavangers, I just couldn't get the image of New Orleans under water after the levees broke, all the news coverage describing the survivors as looters, etc ... it really stayed with me.

Part of the brilliance of this film's construct is that humans are the enemy and the prawn are the heroes, but we're forced to view them (as you noted) threw the human's POV ... making it hard to be sympathetic to someone so different.

Yet at the same time we recognize all the racism and discrimination for what it is, because we've seen it in our history many, many times over the years (I remember recoiling when Wikus threatened to call social services and take Chris Johnson's "son" away ... I've seen cops do that to get something they want that has nothing to do with the child's welfare, a tactic to enforce their will, it's wrong and always will be) and that reverberates within us all.

I don't think it's a perfect film, but certainly it haunted me for long after I saw it, and still does.

Prince Gomolvilas

Isaac, I think your comment about Starship Troopers and point of view is an important one in this discussion. You can view the aliens in District 9 as being negatively portrayed, but I think you have to take into account the film's POV. You say Starship Troopers is "a film essentially about fascism from the POV of fascists." Could District 9 be a film essentially about oppression from the POV of the oppressors? In other words, if you approach the movie from that POV, the aliens would have to be depicted in a negative light.

By the way, can we just pause the politics a moment to acknowledge that this film was fucking awesome?! Those were perhaps the best special effects I have ever seen!

Jason Grote

I also loved the movie and found it problematic, but I agree with J.'s assertion that the way the humans talked about the prawns was laden with "racist" myths -- the liberal academic talking about how they were a worker class incapable of initiative is a terrific example of liberal racism.

But I think the real message of the film is how neoliberalism makes monsters of us all -- cruel Blackwater-style mercenaries, craven bureaucrats, ruthless gangsters, and yes, bottom-feeding refugees. I also thought that the "derailing trains for amusement" thing was a total misinterpretation -- these were terrorists/saboteurs.

While the film was not perfect, I found it infinitely more humanist than the cloyingly sentimental Slumdog Millionaire.

Miranda Simons

Hello! Your understanding of the concept of this film is very unusual. When I was watching District 9 I thought it was another action film about aliens, fight, fire and all that stuff. But now I begin to see more to it. May be this film has a deeper layer of sense. It would be interesting to read the opinion of script writers in order to know whether they really wanted to use the context of apartheid or we just digging to deep.

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