District 9 is a deep and brilliant science-fiction movie, but it is much more than that.The movie is directed by Neill Blomkamp and show in CNN reportage-style the story of an alien group in Johannesburg that came to Earth in a giant ship two decades earlier. They live without any leadership and are helpless. During the forced eviction process that they must survive Wikus Van De Merwe is contaminated by a biological agent which will transform his body.
Wikus is a tragi-comic character apparently strong but actually full of weakness and this makes him ridiculous a few times during the movie and always somehow out of place. Probably unfit to sustain his role, he sometimes acts in an euphoric way and often looks scared.
He has middle-class opinions and until he don’t experienced the “touch” of a new kind of identity , that will change him deeply, he will continue to treat the aliens in a very bad way.
Last but not least when he burns a sack full of alien eggs he says: “do you hear that? That’s a popping, sound that you’re hearing. It’s almost like popcorn”, but he shows the same sensibility with his own colleagues, when somebody immediately afterwards wants to wear a protective mask he says “you don’t need that, man. Only sissies wear that”.
In the first part of the movie he acts as a bully, who never loses the chance to show to the camera what he presumes to know about the aliens and their background.
He supports the idea that the unknown entity are not welcome on the earth.
He is pretending to know also the organization of the nigerians which live in District nine in some kind of integration with the aliens.
Talking with an officier about a powerful black leader who is seen in the camp he says smiling: “you don’t wanna play with these boys. He’ll cut you in four pieces”, and after more serious: That’s the boss there. Keep walking. Don’t look at him. That’s gonna cause problems”.
The aliens are not good or bad, in same way the are naive, naturals, they are sometimes aggressive but nobody in the movie looks really scared of them as individuals, not Wikus not the nigerians who don’t lose any opportunity to exploit, rob and even eat them.
It’s true they are strong and they have an uncommon agility, they eat entire cans of cat food and when they are asked to leave their houses they try to defend in a violent way, but at the same time this doesn’t make us think that they are bad.
They are evicted, and this term is pronounced a few times by the MNU officer, they are not simple transferred just “pleased” to sign an eviction document, a cat food can will be the price of this agreement.
In the movie the master-slave dynamic is made clear: the use of a insulting nickname (prawns) to characterize the aliens, their life in a sordid ghetto, the acts of violence that day by day are perpetrated on the alien community, the eviction process that is the leitmotiv of the first part of the movie.
So now, why “District 9? District 6 is the name of an area in Cape Town designated by the apartheid government for the black people.This reminds us of the the apartheid legislation in South Africa like the Native Consolidation Act a law created to segregate the population that meant that the blacks had to carry a pass to leave their areas.
In 2005 Neill Blomkamp directed “Alive in Joburg” a short movie that we can consider the precursor of District. In both movies we meet themes like racism, segregation and more in general the fear of diversity.
In District 9 we can often meet the sign of an alien iconography that make the story even
more realistic: for example a few simple street art pieces on a wall, a very primitive one that show tree humans killed by a praun, or another one that is pretended to be a symbol of a gang.
We can also see human made signs, for example one that doesn’t allow the aliens to go in some areas:”for Humans only, non human banned” or like in the highway where we see a billboard that says “picking up non-humans is forbidden” each one with a fantomatic telephone number to call to
report non humans. We also see few protest signs made by people to declare their anti-
”prawns” point of view, the prauns symbol on the ship and on the biologic bomb that identifies an alien technology and even the film poster is a black shape of an alien full of bullet holes.
The choice of the giant spaceship above Johannesburg is very impressive but is impossible to forget the iconography of the space ship seen in Independence Day, just in District 9 what we see inside
the ship represents the condition of all people that have no place, we see a true needy situation that have the color and “smell” of a “human” catastrophe.
The so called prawns lives there in terrible conditions and the first impression we receive is of misery and desperation.
At the start of the movie an intervisited expert says “the ship didn’t come to a stop, over Manhattan or Washington or Chicago, but instead coasted to a halt directly over the city of Johannesburg.
District nine presents an isolated country managing with an isolated alien visit, it seems to me that there’s not the rest of the world, that Johannesburg is presented like “the city”, like a social development model to study for the future.
Wikus says at the very beginning “we try to engage with the prawns” I think this sentence is one of the most important to understand the first dynamic of the movie.
Engage there can mean “we try to work with them but can also mean we try to take, own, take on, or even put some of our culture in them.
Looking closely we can see a white “propriety of MNU” on the head of the “prawn” Christopher Johnson .
We are in the presence of the humans scared of this unknown species and as said an intervisited guy in the start of the movie “If they were from another country, we might understand but they are even not from this planet” and the sense in that I think it was, we all have fear of what is unknown, we all will find something that is more strange unknown and foreign than somebody else, it is like saying that there are no limits on what will be scary for us.
The example of the strangers, the aliens, are in this sense almost limitless. It is because of that that they feel free to call them, like Wikus does, prawn.
Talking about the process of transforming Wikus I was very impressed by the words of the little “prawn” during the preparation of the biological bomb that will infect Victor:”why must it take so long? Because it is very difficult…so much can go wrong”.
I think want to mean that the identification process in the “other” it’s really delicate, difficult and probably dangerous in some case. Like that he wanted to allude to difficulty of the contamination in more general sense.
After Victor’s infection the movie go on two levels, between the nigerians that kill and eat aliens to have their strength, and the ability to use their weapons and Victor who is already infected and is beginning the process of transformation in “prawn”.
At this point the situation completely changes, the point of view on the horror and on the “strangerness” is overturned.
Here our point of view is inside the horror, in a “torture chamber”, a big hospital space where on the “prawn” bodies are sperimentated different research, Wikus is now so, subject of this research.
In the most cruel way, to his alive meat and without anaesthetic are perpetrated the experiments of scientist (this reminds me of what I read about the experiments of Josef Mengele in Auschwitz). They finally ask him to shoot with few alien guns, using his transformed harm, the one that will do the job correctly. He still do not accept his new nature, but when they ask after a pig to shoot a “prawn”, he refuse.
Here I have seen the emergence of a new kind of empathy, the dynamic of the torturer that become a torturated, just now the empaty with the “prawns”is manifested: “I will shoot a pig, I’m not shooting that prawn, hear me?” he says.
We guess here an important problem of the modern philosophy: for example Hegel argues that a big part of human history have be read like the working out of a logic master-slave .
People in power need a more vulnerable “other” who will be manipulated, excluded, abused, dominated. Hegel said that Masters need slaves and slaves in their own way need masters, working both for a dysfunctional logic.
Wikus is here the protagonist of this logic and his trasformed, alien hand will change his role from master to slave, an “inhuman” character that becomes human after the contamination with another entity (sooner he will want to cut his arm adopting a cruel stereotype where the part must be sacrified for the whole).
Although when it escapes from the hospital at the home of Christopher Johnson the “prawn” kid say watching Wiktor’s hand that they are the same, naturally he refuse this confusion but is like that, the mutation is already a fact and he is a kid of a new species human and “prawn”.
Noting to say, just what happened to you Neill Blomkamp?