I decide to watch a particular movie for all sorts of reason. Usually it’s an actor, sometimes several cast members, or even a particular production company. I wanted to watch Elysium because of an image. The orbital habitat.

The cast was completely devoid of anyone that makes me leap front and center of the screen. I do really like Jodie Foster, but the previews made her character look so far against type that her presence wasn’t enough to draw me to it. The image on the box though, of the futuristic orbiter looming against a gritty backdrop of an unpleasant civilization did.

That image looked like the heaven and hell extremes science fiction can bring into play. Often it’s one or the other. Turns out Elysium put two extremes in close proximity to each other. When they collide there is where the story lies.

I don’t mean collide in the physical sense, though a scene where a small ship crashes inside the orbital habitat is pretty spectacular. Elysium collides two cultures. The haves and the have nots. The filthy rich and the simply filthy. The privileged and so far under privileged that they would be invisible…if only they knew how to stay in their place.

But there are those forced to live a hard scrabble life on a ruined Earth who are determined to attain the rarified air breathed by the citizens living a life of luxury on Elysium. All they have to do to see it is lift their eyes to the sky. All they have to do to go there is embark on a suicide trip that ends in death before their feet ever touch the pretty green grass in the sky or being deported back home so fast it’s practically before they arrive.

Matt Damon’s character Max dreamed as a child of living on Elysium. When a workplace dose of radiation poisoning proves to be a death sentence, he gets into ever more dangerous and complicated situations so that he can make it to the healing beds of Elysium for a cure.

A lot of complicated intrigue sets in to thwart him at every turn. It’s exciting and scary, not the least of which is Jodie Foster’s badass gatekeeper, who stops at nothing to keep the unwashed
unwanted away from her pristine playground. There is a lot of grit. A lot of violence. A lot of fear and pain.

Surprisingly, there is also a lot of humanity. A lot of heart. And a lot of love. Max feels deeply for his childhood friend Frey, and her terminally ill little girl. He cares a lot more than one would expect at the start for humanity in general. He is an ex con with a heroic heart. He makes sacrifices that will open the elusive Elysium to all.  He becomes an unwitting savior.

This movie doesn’t really seem very appealing for quite some time, but the juxtaposition of deep suffering and wanton excess slowly starts to pay off, as does the way it becomes difficult to be sure just who is a good guy and who is a villain. Elysium the way it is became less attractive, while Elysium the way it could be becomes the goal you root for.

All the violence and pain turn around into an unexpected feel good ending that makes the struggles worthwhile. By the end the vision for Elysium that Max fought for makes the intrigue I felt from seeing that image of the orbital habitat in the sky well worth watching a movie for.

Elysium Official Full Trailer