Year Released: 2009
Directed by: Neill Blomkamp
Starring: Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope
(R, 113 min.)
"Man is the only animal that blushes. Or needs to." Mark Twain
Like wads of congealed chewing gum that stick to your new Nikes, too many films melt down in the megaplex parking lot. This blazing 2009 sci fi flick does not. Instead it dances in your memory in ever expanding circles of light.
The melt down films are burdened with improbable plot twists, contrived storylines, and stereotyped characters that cannot sustain suspended disbelief once the darkened theater disappears. And yes, this latest offering does suffer from a few of these flaws, but District 9 takes enough unconventional turns to keep you thinking about its underlying meaning for quite a while afterward.
Part of its staying power is the wide shot satire that takes in more than the usual suspects. The plotline involves an alien race “rescued” from its mothership hovering over Johannesburg, South African, and placed into refugee camps for “humanitarian” reasons.
The aliens are not E.T. cute, nor are they War of the Worlds ruthless, just your run of the mill ambulatory crustaceans, their faces adorned with wormlike tentacles that undulate Medusa style as they speak. Which is in a language made up of various clicking sounds, not unlike the Bantu language of Africa.
Twenty years down the line, the refugee camp is still teeming with the “prawns,” as they are affectionately referred to by the local population, and they are awash in enough squalor and violence to make the locals nervous. The film opens as they are being relocated to another more distant camp.
Aha, you deduce, this is South African director and screenwriter Neill Blomkamp’s depiction of Apartheid. District 9 is his thinly veiled District 6, “where Cape ‘Coloureds’ owned homes and businesses for many years before being bulldozed out and relocated,” as Roger Ebert explains. That the chief bureaucrat given this duty is a Wikus Va De Merwe (Sharlto Copley), obviously a name evoking Dutch Afrikaners, cements the allusion.
But Blomkamp has the prescience to realize that man’s inhumanity to man is not confined to any one race. So here it is the local African citizens who host the “humans only” placards and harbor negative views of their extra-terrestrial brothers, while the Nigerian Voodoo gangs engage in illegal weapon trading, prostitution, and fleecing the prawns for their addiction to cat food.
The film also floats the usual suspects and then more subtly suggests other insidious bad guys. The paramilitary that backs up the relocation has a certain segment breathlessly frothing with Blackwater satisfaction. Certainly, these guys are painted negatively, but then so is most everyone in the film, a monument to misanthropy, if ever there was one. The military guys virtually lust for the prawns to invite their flamethrowers with any outward signs of rebellion at being uprooted their homes, rancid as they may be.
It is certainly easy to see MNU (Multi-National United), the private company charged with seeing to the Alien’s welfare, as another guise for the self-righteously reviled Haliburton of Iraq infamy, but take another look at the acronym. Read it backwards and toss out the last letter. Does it not remind you of another well-meaning multinational institution ostensibly charged with upholding peace and offering humanitarian assistance? That institution to many represents a catalogue of some of the world’s great thugs, kleptocrats, and corrupt opportunists that has ever existed.
Another plus is the effective mix of documentary and narrative styles. Various social scientists explain the chaos of District 9 with the smug detachment of the talking heads of current news, while Copley’s Van De Merwe has the callous ineptitude of a typical bureaucrat. He approaches the about to be evicted prawns with a saccharine smile and purports to be doing them a favor with his visit. Of course we are reminded of the nine most feared words in the English language: “I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”
He is being filmed as he presents the eviction notices to various prawns, one of whom claws at it in a gesture of contempt. “He clawed it; that’s a signature,” he announces to the crew filming the incident, perfectly happy to adopt a journalistic hat and spin the news to his bent.
Also noteworthy is the change in vision and attitude that emerges as the film develops. First we see the aliens as the rather disgusting “prawns” the natives loathe. We have footage of them rummaging through garbage, devouring rancid animal parts with bloodthirsty abandon, and wielding weapons, as ugly and repulsive as their physical forms. Later we see how they are treated, their incubating young aborted with fire and glee, their body parts used for scientific experiment reminiscent of Josef Mengele, the Nazi Angel of Death. Then we meet one particular prawn and his young son, whose fingers - or shall I say claws - fly over a computerized navigational system like a preteen texting , and we know there is both intelligence and purpose here.
Like the best of science fiction, the ramifications of this film go beyond its space opera plot. And its pessimistic assessment of human nature has one positive caveat. That it skewers both sides of the political aisle shows us they might actually have something in common, after all.
Most of the food in District 9 engenders disgust rather than appetite. Whether it’s the canned cat food that the alien “prawns” lust for or the dripping carcasses they devour raw, there’s not much to recommend. Then there’s the birthday party for our protagonist, only he has just been infected with some alien ooze, and he promptly barfs black gook all over his cake.
If I haven’t yet spoiled your appetite, I will suggest a South African delight, as healthy as it is delicious. It is made with lentils, full of fiber and great for lowering cholesterol and regulating blood sugar. And they are chocked with vitamins and other nutritional wonders. Like the people, this South African recipe is warm and spicy.
You might want to cook up a whole African feast with these additional recipes
Ethiopian Cheese Dip and Injera Bread
Moroccan Herbed Fish
Zimbabwe Bean Salad
Sudanese Cinnamon Tea
Spicy South African Lentils
- 2 cups orange lentils (rinsed and picked through for no twigs or stones)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 1 large sweet onion, chopped
- 1 inch piece fresh ginger, grated
- 3 garlic cloves, crushed
- 1 teaspoon coriander powder
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon cumin seed, crushed
- 1 teaspoon cardamom seed, crushed
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 cup fresh tomato, diced peeled
- Dissolve salt in enough boiling water to cover lentils. Add lentils.
- and cook until tender about 20 minutes. Drain and mash with potato masher.
- Heat oil in a pan and fry onions and garlic until onions are golden.
- Add remaining ingredients and simmer for a few minutes. Stir in lentils and heat until thick. Serve hot.
Recipe Source: Recipezaar.com