www.baltimoresun.com/sports/college/football/ct-met-kass-0814-20130814,0,3936674.column

baltimoresun.com

Kass: There's little 'fiction' in latest sci-fi thriller ... and yes, it's political

'Elysium' is depiction of big government and corporate power

John Kass

9:11 PM EDT, August 13, 2013

Advertisement

Matt Damon, who recently announced his breakup with President Barack Obama, is downplaying the heavy-handed politics in "Elysium," his new sci-fi summer action movie.

Of course, that's just plain Hollywood nonsense. "Elysium" is highly political. But then, all good science fiction is highly political.

You can bet your Asimov on it.

"1984" was political, as was "The Island of Doctor Moreau," the superb "Soylent Green" and Kurt Vonnegut's "Harrison Bergeron." We use science fiction to explain ourselves. And now comes "Elysium," which isn't a great movie by any means, but it has certainly stoked angry debate.

Once upon a time, Hollywood made cowboy movies. But that was a different America, and now we allow cyborg warriors to fight our political battles.

If you have little or no imagination, you'll probably see "Elysium" as Hollywood liberal Democrats and establishment Republicans see it:

As a simple tale of haves and have-nots, with Damon as the gray-eyed white hero leading impoverished Latinos of a squalid Earth to "free" health care and full citizenship in that magnificent gringo heaven in the skies.

I saw it the other day with my teenage sons and was entertained on many levels.

For starters, I liked it because it is a decent summer action picture, with cyborg elements, gangbangers as revolutionaries, car chases, much gratuitous violence and no sex, so it's fun for the entire family.

Yet for all the whining by the GOP establishment about "Elysium," it's clear the Republicans have once again missed an opportunity to connect with voters, especially those in need of a decent job.

Some might see "Elysium" as left-wing Hollywood propaganda. But I saw it rather as an unwitting indictment of the marriage between Big Government Socialism and Big Corporate Multinationalism, the two dehumanizing horns on the head of the same gigantic goat.

And Americans have been impaled on those horns for a very long time.

Once we were a nation of families, and these were protected by churches and other nongovernmental institutions. But government became gargantuan. And it got together with its partner, corporate capitalism (which seeks government leverage to crush competitors), to break down those walls.

Now we're a nation of individual consumer units on the grid, eager to spend, eager to validate. Those who blame conservatives for this state of affairs are either willfully ignorant or as clueless as the slum dwellers in "Elysium."

In the movie, the cities are past decay. The people are uneducated, trudging through menial work, pushed around by federal robot troops. And the elites who fled from the problems they helped make maintain control with a massive surveillance bureaucracy, from facial recognition software to tracking chips, as the corporate/government one-worlders exert their power over the unwashed hordes.

So what about this is fiction, exactly?

In "Elysium," the elites live in a Swiftian floating paradise of rational thought, of science and plenty. The boss, Jodie Foster, has a French accent and wears killer suits.

She uses vast government muscle to engineer victories for select multinational corporations. They seek untold riches. She seeks power. The elites' only allegiance is to themselves. What we're seeing in "Elysium" isn't a condemnation of Republicans, but a depiction of European Socialism.

Obviously, here on "real" Earth, we have no Swiftian paradise floating above our unwashed heads.

But we do have Beverly Hills, where moviemakers dream of Obama and shape metaphor for a people who don't prize serious reading. And we have Martha's Vineyard, where the former South Side community organizer now goes on vacation with his entire entourage.

Obama loves it there among the wealthy liberal elites. He skipped his visit during his re-election year as class warrior. Now that's over, so he lets the country watch him golf. He even went so far as to airlift the family dog.

We've become a nation of part-time workers, fearful of losing even that, and yet the White House dog gets the air-taxi treatment so it can crap on the lawns of the 1-Percenters.

It's at times like these when I try to dream of the movie cowboy. But there is no movie cowboy. We've killed him off.

We didn't kill the cowboy directly, not face-to-face, out in the sun in the middle of the street. And it wasn't done quietly, with a pillow in the whorehouse while he was sleeping.

Instead, the movie cowboy died off because, as happens with many wild creatures, his habitat was destroyed. He had no place to run.

The landscape in which the Hollywood cowboy once lived was an American dream involving the primacy of the individual, of rugged independence.

He had a thorough contempt of Eastern dudes with their lawyerly talk and prissy bureaucratic ways. Their honeyed tongues always threatening to unleash all that federal power massing just over the ridge. And the descendants of those dudes? They live on "Elysium." And the cowboy is a tumbleweed, lost in the iconosphere.

These days, except for stray cyborgs, the bureaucrat is the hero, even a ruthless action figure like Jack Bauer of "24," or other secret agents like James Bond. They kill for the state. Some say Jason Bourne is the new cowboy, but Bourne, too, is a creature of the state.

The old movie heroes disappeared with the new age, this age of power politics and of scientific man.

And that's the truth of "Elysium," which floats above us, an island of reason.

jsksass@tribune.com

Twitter @John_Kass