In 2154, the Earth is a wasteland — an overpopulated, polluted mess. Los Angeles is a maze of shantytowns and filthy slums. Most services are provided by automation and androids, and the only jobs are building the robots that run everything on the planet.
High above is a huge starlike object, a place called Elysium, where the rich people live.
On Elysium there is no crime, no disease. It's like Beverly Hills was moved directly there. It's where the president lives, and the world below is controlled by the head of their defense, Delacourt (Jodie Foster). She uses an undercover agent, Kruger (“District 9's” Sharlto Copley), to do her dirty work on the ground.
On Earth, Max (Matt Damon) is a parolee who is trying to turn his life around and works at the robot plant. A run-in with an automated policeman results in a broken arm for Max and a trip to the clinic.
There, he sees Frey (Alice Braga), a girl who grew up with him in an orphanage in Los Angeles. She is a nurse with a secret but patches him up and sends him to work, where his boss docks his pay and puts him back on the assembly line.
A slight miscalculation causes an industrial accident that leaves Max in bad shape. His only hope is to somehow get to Elysium and get into a medical machine that can fix anything.
Max takes a risky job with Spider (Wagner Moura) in return for a ticket to Elysium. He is part of a plot to hijack government secrets and bank account numbers from the head of the corporation that manufactures the robots.