District 9 is a modern sci-fi cult classic from explosive filmmaker Neil Blomkamp. Released in the late summer of 2009, it resonated with a global audience and left an immediate mark. It managed to blend impressive special effects with a gritty, realistic found footage-styled narrative that thrusts the viewer right into the story. Its ability to both dazzle as a summer spectacle but also make its audience reflect upon themselves and the state of the world and our humanity as a whole is among the most effective examples of social commentary within genre film making.
The film shows us an alternative reality wherein Johannesburg, South Africa has been turned upside down after an alien vessel appeared over its skies. While the residents of the area are repelled by the aliens housed inside, the audience learns soon enough that they’re actually quite human. They don’t wish anyone on our planet harm, and yet they receive nothing but the most cruel treatment and complete segregation from regular society. This is where the title of the film comes into play; District 9 is the name of an internment camp used to section the aliens off from.
Of course, no action oriented science fiction film ever gets up and running without some degree of adventure. One of the aliens – the immensely lovable and identifiable Christopher Johnson – takes it upon himself to attempt an escape. His wish is for nothing more to take his son and return back to their home. The human lead of the film, Wikus van der Merwe (as portrayed by Sharlto Copley), complicates matters after confiscating one of the pieces of technology Johnson had been hoarding. After being sprayed in the face with a liquid contained within, Wikus finds himself slowly turning into an alien himself.
Though initially a bureaucrat with very little care for the aliens himself, Wikus’ new dilemma shows him first hand just how dismissive society can be upon realizing someone else isn’t quite the same. The military company overseeing the camp intends to treat him as a lab experiment to understand the nature of the transformation (and the alien DNA at large), but he escapes and is forced to take refuge in District 9 itself. His name is then slandered, subjecting Wikus to incredible public scrutiny.
Christopher Johnson and Wikus ultimately work together, with the alien hoping to find his way home in return for helping find a cure to the new transformation. Nothing goes quite as planned however, and the story goes on to take many twists and turns from there. Amidst high tension drama and incredible action, District 9 ultimately serves as a nod to real life events such as District Six in Cape Town and the apartheid era of South Africa as a whole. It is truly gripping and has become one of the most well regarded modern classics, and the achievement is nothing short of impressive given that the earliest stages of the film’s development began as little more than a video game adaptation! If you haven’t given it a shot, it’s well worth a viewing.