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When a movie is or isn't propaganda

Posted By Drew Zahn On 08/11/2013 @ 9:06 pm In Front Page,Politics,Reviews | No Comments

So Boston liberal Matt Damon is at it again, making another film with a thinly disguised leftist agenda – or is he?

The actor told Fox News of his new film “Elysium,” “I don’t think it is trying to say anything. It just presents the issue – the distinct difference between the haves and the have nots.

“A science fiction film will work if it is a whole new world,” he continued, “but speaks to the world that we live in, but not in a heavy-handed way.”

Really, Matt?

After the propaganda-packed “Promised Land,” his portrayal of Liberace’s homosexual lover in “Behind the Candelabra,” his anti-God flick “Adjustment Bureau” and his lefty bomb “Green Zone,” I’m not sure Damon is a good judge of what is or isn’t “heavy-handed.”

But the director of “Elysium,” Neill Blomkamp, also insisted, “‘Elysium’ doesn’t have a message,” and refuted claims it echoed Occupy Wall Street sentiments.

So, somewhat reluctantly, giving the movie the benefit of the doubt, I decided to check it out.

The story of “Elysium” suggests that in a dystopian future, the earth is overpopulated by the teeming masses of poor and downtrodden, while the wealthy live in comparable paradise on a space station called “Elysium.”

And let’s be honest: The idea of the haves and have nots, though often trumpeted by socialists, communists and other lefties of various stripes, is not inherently propaganda; it’s truth. There is a massive divide between the wealth, comfort and security of a nation like the U.S. and the poverty and lawlessness of a nation like Mexico. Some have more; others don’t. That’s just a socioeconomic fact.

It only becomes leftist schlock when propagandists try to blame capitalism or American imperialism for this economic divide, or when they try to drum up hatred for the wealthy in order to justify stealing from their labors to fund a welfare state. When we stop aspiring to be among the haves and instead hate them for their success, then it’s … well, then it’s Matt Damon’s usual fare.

And neither is it inherently leftist to imagine a dystopian future where this divide between haves and have nots grows. That possibility exists.

So if “Elysium” were just a story about a man trying to do justice in a world where the divide has resulted in cruel injustice; if this were just a story about a have not trying to make sense of this future world and better himself; if this were just a “good pauper takes down the evil prince” story, Damon and Blomkamp would be right – “Elysium” wouldn’t have an agenda.

But there are some serious flies in this “no message” ointment of theirs.

For starters, if the human-smuggling ships that try to reach Elysium were called “unauthorized ships” or “unwelcome ships,” it would fit an apolitical story. But when they’re called “undocumented ships” … the allusion to today’s illegal immigration debate is obvious.

I mean, c’mon. In what believable future of computer technology, where paper and filing cabinets had been eliminated 100 years prior, would anything be called “undocumented?” It’s a glaring, dare I say “heavy-handed” (as Damon denied) “message” (as Blomkamp denied).

Furthermore, if the unauthorized people who landed on Elysium were called “invaders” or “intruders,” it could be an apolitical movie. But when they’re called “illegals”? Who do you think they’re talking about?

And when “deportation” ships send the “illegals” who came on “undocumented” vessels home – and when everyone on earth speaks Spanish, while the language is unheard on Elysium – this isn’t coincidence. This is a political statement.

And finally, when Elysium’s military guardian justified her “homeland security” border-enforcement brutality by saying she was just “protecting our liberty,” it made no sense in the context of the film, but was clearly put there as a snide slap at tea-party types, some of the last people in this country who even remember what “liberty” means. The makers of “Elysium” sure don’t.

Neither are they particularly good at economics (but then again, what leftist is?). In the end, it appears the film had been all along a vehicle for hyping universal health care. And in “Elysium,” like in most leftists’ understanding of health care, this panacea is perfectly free and available to all, if only the greedy and selfish would release it to the masses.

That might work in science fiction, but this is the real world, where doctors and medicines and research and treatments all have to paid out of someone’s pocket. Health care doesn’t just grow from “pods,” like it does on Elysium.

In the end, “Elysium” strays from a story about haves and have nots to vilifying the haves for ruthlessly oppressing the have nots. And that, Mr. Damon, is when it goes from being just a summer blockbuster to being a lot of schlock.

Content advisory:

  • “Elysium,” rated R, contains roughly 80 obscenities and profanities, most of them strong and often unnecessary.
  • The film contains several shirtless men, a few ugly innuendos and a few women seen briefly in bathing suits, but otherwise has very little sexuality.
  • Violence in the film consists of futuristic gun fights and some heavy hand-to-hand combat. There are some strong action elements in a pair of battle scenes, but it is not an “action movie,” per se. There are, however, a few shots of shockingly gory and bloody carnage as a result of violence and one scene of graphic vomiting.
  • The film has little religious content, save for the presence of a nun who has a positive, motherly impact on two of the film’s characters as children.

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