May 26, 2011 / Filmwell
Kenji Koiso has his summer vacation all planned out: he and his friend Sakuma have …
December 3, 2009
District 9 is not for the faint of heart. Its gruesome violence is instead for the full of heart: those who value how science fiction can comment on horrific historical realities. The setting of District 9–Johannesburg, South Africa–signals the historical reality to which it alludes: the Apartheid system which segregated blacks from whites through the development of all-black “townships”–what we might call segregated “districts.” The “District 9” that names this film is a township developed for space alien refugees: creatures nicknamed “prawns” because they look like huge sea shrimp with arms and legs. But in the word “prawns” we also hear “pawns”; the creatures are pawns to a system that fears that which is “alien”: that which looks, talks, and acts differently than majority culture. And we see that the segregation of aliens into wretched living environments turns them wretchedly violent, making them all the more feared by South Africans, who use despicable violence to subdue them. The film focuses on two characters: Wikus, a white man in charge of the district relocation program who becomes infected by prawn fluids, and a prawn who seeks to transcend the wretchedness of his environment. Is it a coincidence that this prawn is named “Christopher,” meaning Christ-carrier? Christopher returns to the heavens by re-igniting the alien spaceship that has been inertly hovering over Johannesburg for 20 years. But before he ascends, Christopher promises Wikus he will come again, returning to earth to save him from the evil that has deformed him. Coincidence? You decide.
Mini-review by guest critic Crystal Downing