You and the alien who resides with you shall
have the same law and the same ordinance.
I charged your judges at that time: ‘Give the members of your community a fair hearing, and judge rightly between one person and another, whether citizen or resident alien.
Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, nor shed innocent blood in this place.
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Matthew 25:43
Peter Jackson is not only a great film director, but also a promoter of worthy films of other filmmakers, such as the South African-Canadian Neill Blomkamp, who directed and co-wrote (with Terri Tatchell)
the exciting District 9. This is a film that again proves that science fiction is an excellent means for exploring a burning social issue. In this case it is the controversial subject of the treatment of aliens, important not only in a USA worried about the security of its borders, but in many European, African, and Asian countries as well during this time of turmoil when so many people are forced to flee their homelands and seek sanctuary in other lands.
In District 9 the “aliens” are from an unspecified planet, their giant spacecraft having come to earth 28 years before the action in the film begins. Far from being the vicious marauders of the usual scifi tale, these aliens turn out to be “the huddled masses yearning to be free.” When the huge mother ship hovered over Johannesburg and nothing happened, South African security forces helicoptered up and entered the ship where they discovered that the passengers were miserable refugees from their home planet. The government has herded them into the slum known as District 9, the filmmakers’ reference to a real district back in the days of apartheid when the black residents were forcibly removed to make way for whites. In this film the government contracts out to Multi-National United (MNU), a private company ominously like Halliburton, to remove the alien population away from the city to a remote region where they will not be so bothersome to ordinary citizens.
The aliens look like a cross between giant ants and crustaceans, hence the scornful name given them by humans, “prawns.” They have been living in the kind of shacks familiar to viewers of the films of apartheid days. The “prawns” either scavenge for food or saleable items on the refuse dumps, as so many millions of “the wretched of the earth” do, or they trade their weapons for cans of cat food to underworld boss Obesandjo (Eugene Khumbanyiwa), the head of a Nigerian gang that rules District 9. MNU also has been collecting alien weapons in the hope of being able to profit from their manufacture and sale. However, the weapons are built so that they will work only with the DNA of the aliens, so thus far they are useless.
Although a very violent film that will please lovers of the summer action genre, through the character development of the MNU flunky assigned to head the removal, Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), we are shown the inhumanity of the humans compared to the aliens who, like E.T., just want to go home. When he knocks on the door to evict an alien by the curious name of Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), he discovers an illegal lab, Christopher and his young son having been distilling a liquid that will refuel their mother ship, a process that has taken over 20 years. Wikus becomes contaminated by the liquid, his DNA so effected that one of his hands is transformed into a claw. Now regarded as the key to unlocking the powerful weapons, Wikus is pursued by MNU and government soldiers in a massive manhunt, chief among whom is Koobus (David James), brutal MNU Security Chief. The only place he can hide is in the dangerous District 9.
People of faith will find many references in Scripture to “the alien” as good handles for interpreting and discussing the film—such as “You shall not oppress a resident alien; you know the heart of an alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9). Along with the earlier released Moon, this faux documentary style film makes two “not to be missed” science fiction films that lead us to think about life, death, and ethical issues. The special effects are seamlessly worked in, and the average Joe Wikus is the kind of guy turned hero for whom we can all root. The film almost begs a sequal–I hope that after watching this that audiences will too!
1. How does the faux documentary technique contribute to the realism of the film?
2. What do you think of Wikus when you first saw him? Not the heroic type is he? Compare him to Koobus, or his father-in-law. Were you surprised that he could have attracted such a lovely woman as his wife?
3. How is Obesandjo also an alien? Compare him to Christopher Johnson. How does the filmmaker help us to see the alien’s decency? In the scene in MNU’s lab, how do we see the contrast between so-called humanity and the aliens?
3. What might MNU be a stand-in for? What do you think of our contracting out of services in Iraq—helpful or harmful? Compare the way that Koobus and his minions treat the aliens with those that some Iraqis claim that American mercenaries have treated their people. Which of the reasons for using mercenaries do you think are most important? For economical reasons; because they save our volunteer soldiers from some of the dangers of occupying a land; because the blame for any blunders will fall on the company rather than the US government; or—?
4. What do you think of the filmmakers’ handling of the two major themes—of treatment of aliens and the longing to go home? How might they be related to our own society?
Compare the film to Crossing Over or My Family; to E.T.
5. Do a word check in an on-line Bible and see how many passages deal with the treatment of “the alien” “the stranger;” or “the sojourner.” What does Jesus have to say about this? How does the work of more thoughtful science fiction authors broaden our understanding of others and our relationships to them?