The world is a ghetto.
That is, yes, the title of an old song by War. It is also the reality presented by “Elysium,” the new film by director Neill Blomkamp. It posits a ruined Earth in the year 2154, overcome by overcrowding, disease and environmental and economic collapse. Los Angeles is a dusty brown shantytown where people live on top of one another like some favela in Rio.
Then the camera takes you up to the orbiting habitat to which the wealthy have decamped, Elysium. It's Latin for paradise, and that's what this is, assuming your idea of paradise is a McMansion with a manicured lawn the size of a city park where you live a life of vaguely sterile luxury.
Blomkamp has given us a tale perfect for these political times. It is an allegory of income disparity, a cautionary saga of what happens when more and more resources are concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.
One of those resources is adequate health care. On Earth, if you get sick, you fill out a form and try not to die in the waiting room before the doctor gets around to you. On Elysium, they have this device that can instantly cure anything from lymphoma to radiation poisoning. Our hero, Max, afflicted with the latter and given just days to live, resolves to somehow make his way up there so that he can be healed.
The movie's political implications have not escaped the conservative punditocracy. Rush Limbaugh pronounced it “anti-capitalist, pro-socialism.” But some in the liberal punditocracy have also been displeased. Alyssa Rosenberg of ThinkProgress scored the movie for failing to “speak truth to power” in its silence on the causes of the inequities it depicts.
There are elements of truth in both arguments. But the movie actually seems determined to make another point altogether, albeit one that probably flies under the radar because of its very simplicity: We're all in this thing together.
So the space station is not just a space station. It is the science-fiction equivalent of the gated community. Or of America as viewed from some Mexican hovel.