“When dealing with aliens, try to be polite, but firm. And always remember that a smile is cheaper than a bullet.”
There’s a lot to love about District 9. I remember when it was released 10 years ago, it was one of those “make sure you go in blind” kind of movies. I’d have to agree, given the way the movie toys with your biases. So if you haven’t seen the film, I’d recommend not reading further until you have.
The film sets itself up like a documentary. Aliens have landed on Earth, but instead of being celebrated and admired, they are impoverished and relocated to slums. Humanity turns against the aliens, whom they nickname “prawns” due to their shrimp-like features, and the extraterrestrials become outcasts of society. An unimpressive bureaucrat, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), is tasked with evicting the aliens from their homes by orders of the government. In doing so, he faces an encounter which changes his life forever.
Wikus is an unlikely protagonist, incapable and unlikeable from the outset. Still though, I found myself relating with him in a sick way as a Westerner. We’re conditioned to root against otherness. We are ultimately led to humanize with the prawns, following Wikus in his journey, but it takes some time. The cruel relocation practices and bureaucratic trickery of the humans seems so familiar that we almost understand it as humane. It’s only as the film really progresses, through an awesome transformation along the vein of great body horror, do we come to understand “otherness” in its full capacity.
On the subject of body horror, District 9 pulls it off really well. The progression of the Wikus from man to prawn is unsettling and ripe with pathos. The detail-work is what pulls off similar concepts, and I was reminded of Videodrome and American Werewolf in London. There’s both a physical and mental progression as the hero learns how to function but also how to cope as a hideous creature, and District 9 cements itself in the genre for how it manages these elements.
I do think the first 30 minutes were more entertaining than the 90 that followed, but such is often the case when you play with form. For the time the film manages to keep you guessing, it’s a refreshing genre-bender that eventually settles into a worthwhile sci-fi horror piece.
District 9 is a memorable movie that toys with you in a lot of fun ways. It earned a lot of rightful buzz, although it seems to be discussed far less these days. Still, though, it’s a movie I’m glad to have on my shelf.
Films Left to Watch: 821