“He broke up with me,” Matt Damon said about President Obama. “There are a lot of things that I really question, the legality of the drone strikes, and these NSA revelations. Jimmy Carter came out and said ‘we don’t live in a democracy.’ That’s a little intense when an ex-president says that, so he’s got some explaining to do, particularly for a constitutional law professor.”
It’s not the kind of publicity soundbite you expect from a Hollywood star the weekend his latest $100-million-budget, hope-to-be blockbuster opens. But then Elysium is fed up with the President too. His name is Patel in the movie, and his right arm is right winger Jodie Foster. Allow illegals a path to citizenship? She’d rather gun them down. Give the poor universal healthcare? She’d rather gun them down. Sure, the brown-skinned President scolds and threatens his renegade Security director, but it’s Ms. Foster and her Tea Party of drones and psychopaths keeping the 1% afloat. The gated community of Elysium orbits high above the slumlands of allegorical Earth.
Damon and his running mate, director Neill Blomkamp, deny the film is overly political. It’s mostly about boys with guns blowing each other up in new and interesting ways, same as any summer blockbuster. But the Damon-Blomkamp ticket does make some big campaign pledges:
Had enough of the Affordable Healthcare Act? We’ve got giant robotships filled with cure-anything Med-Pods, and we’re flying them down to a parking lot near you.
Annoyed with the immigration reform bills flailing around in Congress? Tap a key on your laptop and the entire population of the planet are instant citizens.
Sick of greedy CEOs exploiting employees? We’ll shoot down their private jets and pirate their brains.
Worried about the psychopaths running the drone program? We’ll slit their throats and explode their bodies in sprays of CGI blood.
Tired of lawless hoodlums looting your neighborhood? We’ll drill cybernetic exoskeletons into their skulls until they grow self-sacrificing hearts of gold.
It’s an ambitious agenda, but they promise it all not in their first hundred days in office, but in five. Because that’s all the radiated working class has left. Damon and Blomkamp even guarantee term limits. Once all that legislation is downloaded, you drop dead. No second term sequels.
Which is how Damon feels about Obama. He was a big supporter back in 2008, but now it’s conservatives playing the actor’s soundbites. Some of them must be buying his tickets too. Elysium earned $30 million its opening weekend. That’s not a landslide victory, but it’s respectable enough that the film should pull a profit once it hits foreign markets. That’s right, people outside the U.S. are going to see it. That’s how Pacific Rim rocketed out of the red too. America isn’t the exclusive pot of gold it used to be.
Elysium isn’t everything I’d want in a politically allegorical star-driven scifi action flick, but it’s a decent compromise for such a messy genre. The same is true of Obama. No, he’s not everything I want in a President, but he’s decent, and his genre is way way messier. Damon heard Jimmy Carter say last month that “America has no functioning democracy at this moment.” He meant because of NSA surveillance, something former President George Bush said he supports. If you’re the current resident of the White House, you probably don’t want either of them agreeing with you.
I don’t know if the history books of 2154 are going to agree with Damon or not. Probably the 44th President of the United States will get very mixed but ultimately if grudgingly positive reviews. Elysium will be long forgotten. Even in the shorter term, its plot is too simple, its villains too one-dimensional, its women and children too obviously in hero-motivating peril, for the film to be memorable.
But it’s not trying for memorable. It’s just a quick dip in Hollywood’s orbiting paradise before we plunge back into the grit of August. Forget democracy. All America wants at this moment is a theater with a functioning air conditioner.