We say you should not judge a book by its cover. However, when you have nothing else to go on, the cover will do. In film, our first impression takes shape from promotional materials, the most descriptive of which tend to be trailers.
From what we have seen so far from Neill Blomkamp’s follow-up to his 2009 breakout hit District 9, he appears bent on further developing that film’s none too subtle social agenda. The official synopsis of Elysium:
In the year 2154, two classes of people exist: the very wealthy, who live on a pristine man-made space station called Elysium, and the rest, who live on an overpopulated, ruined planet. The people of Earth are desperate to escape the crime and poverty that is now rampant throughout the land. The only man with the chance to bring equality to these worlds is Max (Matt Damon), an ordinary guy in desperate need to get to Elysium. With his life hanging in the balance, he reluctantly takes on a dangerous mission – one that pits him against Elysium’s Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) and her hard-line forces – but if he succeeds, he could save not only his own life, but millions of people on Earth as well.
In the trailer, we see Foster’s Delacourt order the destruction of several “undocumented” shuttles carrying illegal immigrants from Earth to Elysium. Clearly, we are meant to connect the imagery to real-life immigration scenarios. Like Cuban refuges braving a 90 mile trip in small boats for a taste of the American dream, the space-bound huddled masses of Elysium risk life and limb to escape untenable circumstances.
Added to the immigration meme, we detect the tone of Occupy Wall Street. Damon’s Max seeks to save the people of Earth and “bring equality to these worlds” through the use of force, justified by his “desperate need.” Though not overtly mentioned in the trailer, capitalism appears in the cross-hairs. An apparent industrial accident caused while in the employ of a corporate Elysium contractor, leaves Max with five days to live. The means to survive exists on the space station, medical pods which can apparently cure any illness or repair any injury. However, the only way to access one is to take on the Man.