Every year at Passover, Jews thank God for delivering them from slavery in Egypt. As part of the seder ceremony, songs are sung, one of which is called Dayenu. The song recounts all the miracles God performed for our wayward ancestors, one after another. The chorus, “Dayenu”, roughly translates as “it would have been enough.” Had God only sent the plagues but not parted the sea, it would have been enough. Had he sent the plagues, parted the sea, but not sent mana from the sky to feed the people, it would have been enough. You get the idea.
Though I never really bought into the whole religion thing, I couldn’t help but remember Dayenu as I walked out of Neill Blomkamp’s much anticipated District 9.
If it had just introduced some novel ideas into the already colossal “alien v.s human” sci-fi canon, it would have still been well worth the price of admission.
Had it not addressed important political issues at the forefront of our social consciousness– race relations, war profiteering, torture– it would have nonetheless been very good.
Even lacking Blomkamp’s incredible talent for incorporating CG footage and special effects with live action, District 9 would still be the best mainstream film released this summer.
If absent a touching and thought provoking story, and or a truly human tragic hero, the film would have easily become one of my favorites in any genre.
As with so many things, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, and the parts of District 9 add up to a simply phenomenal movie. Shortcomings in the storytelling are easily forgiven by the original and well thought-out plot, as rich in emotion and irony as any Greek epic (which, in a sense, the story is modeled after). The action and battle scenes rank right up there with those found in Black Hawk Down in terms of intensity, while still keeping enough detachment and fictiveness to allow for some truly awesome alien technology. So well done were the SFX that one quickly forgets the footage they are watching has been altered at all. Above all else, this is a smart film. So rarely these days are audiences allowed to think for themselves– to decide on their own who is right and who is wrong– without being beaten over the head with crudely constructed morality.
As icing on an already delicious cake, Blomkamp’s treatment of the South African setting is incredibly well done, and captures a great deal of nuanced behavior (especially in the flawlessly acted character of Wikus) that could so easily have been left out (but which leaves wistful ex-pats like myself cheering).
When I first saw Alive in Joburg, the digital short on which District 9 is based, I knew that whoever made it would go on to make some very special things, and Blomkamp does not disappoint. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next (HALO anyone?).