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Matt Damon Talks “Elysium” Tech vs. Social Justice

In the split universe that is Neil Blomkamp’s summer action movie “Elysium,” the "haves" live, quite literally, above the “have-nots.” And what the “haves” have is a painless lifestyle facilitated by jealously guarded technology.

Bio-medical scanner/repairers confer near-immortality to the privileged. “Elysium”’s security personnel can closely monitor Earthly activities almost anywhere. Humanoid robot police tightly control borders, restricting human movement. And corporate executives rocket about in dark window-tinted space shuttles with Bugatti-coachwork.

If these themes seem allegorical to present-day conflicts over universal health care, freedom of information, immigration policy and ubiquitous surveillance, you are not wrong. But writer-director Blomkamp didn’t want his social justice message to get in the way of the film’s popcorn-munching action. We spoke with “Elysium’s” star Matt Damon about striking that balance:

“Like ‘District 9’, Neil really loves to inject these themes that have some resonance and relevance to the world we’re living in now,” says Damon. “He wants to entertain and he wants everyone to come into the theater and just unplug and see just a big sci-fi action movie. But he doesn’t want it to be empty spectacle. He wants the movie to stay with people.”

A Cautionary Tale

Blomkamp’s “Elysium” is a cautionary tale about what happens if all the good gear winds up closely held by the elites of society. Ironically, here in our real world, the clear trend has been toward technology as a widely self-proliferating and disruptively democratizing force.

But sometimes, that doesn’t happen without a fight: witness ObamaCare vs. the “wealth-o-rati.” And ubiquitous tech doesn’t come without the possibility of abuses: witness United States’ NSA over-reach, Facebook dossier-compilation and Google micro-targeting.

MORE: The Top 10 Most Popular Superheroes, According to YouTube

In “Elysium”, the fight gets personal. Damon’s character Max must battle his way to an exclusive orbiting salvation-station to save his own life. In the process he will save much more – and, paradoxically, lose much more. But first he must make it through badass Kruger, played by Sharlto Copley (District 9).

Next-Gen Killing Machine

Elysium's truly mortal combat becomes that much more epic as both warriors are enhanced with high-tech biomechanical exoskeletons. Eight months of R&D and 75 revisions (at New Zealand's Weta Workshop) were needed to finalize the 'HULC suit' - the bio-mechanical exoskeleton worn by Max (Matt Damon) and Kruger (Sharlto Copley).

Kruger is part terminator, part Star Wars bounty hunter, and part ex-Special Forces turned mercenary. He personifies unbridled killing technology, ruthlessly applied. And he is scary. Conscience-free Kruger is as starkly terrifying as actor Copley’s District 9 character, Wikus, was beguiling and charming. But, as with Wikus, Copley injects moments of high comedy into his Kruger within nanoseconds of bloody horror and mayhem. We spoke with Copley about playing the schizoid, tech-enhanced villain:

“There was a dark, kind of sadistic humor to Kruger,” Copley says. “Neil has opted to keep him quiet and darkly lethal with little touches of the humor. We always knew it was going to be a careful crafting so that the audience didn’t like him too much.”

Jodie Foster on Elysium's Utopia

“She sees Elysium as utopia – what Earth could have been but wasn’t,” says Foster of her character, “She knows what will happen if you let everybody in – it’ll end up just like Earth. If you try to give Elysium to everybody, you’ll give it to nobody.”

“Elysium's” 22nd century tech is marvelous in the original sense of the word. There are some minor inconsistencies. If you have nanotechnology that can heal people in seconds, for example, you don't need big guns to kill them. But nothing in the film will trigger disbelief. And Blomkamp’s story is intricately woven entertainment.

MORE: The Real Tech Behind 'Elysium' Exoskeletons

In the universe of “Elysium”, Matt Damon’s character, Max, seeks to right the wrongs of a world turned inside out. In our present day universe, the emergence of 3D printing, powerful and cheap computing, elegant robotics, low cost access to space, and a global need for low carbon energy, may make it technologically feasible to build such human-created worlds very soon.

Perhaps the lessons of “Elysium” may help technologists calibrate their personal moral compasses.

  • shin0bi272
    for those that are uninitiated social justice is redistribution of wealth along socio-economic lines. Its essentially taking money from whites and giving it to blacks and hispanics. Its another term that the progressives have taken from religion and corrupted it to mean pretty much the exact opposite of what it is supposed to mean. yaaay socialism!
  • MaxTesla

    The government should cut off your welfare checks throw you out on the street and see how long you survive.

    Sitting at home drinking beer and eating chips and screaming how it is all people of different skin colour than yours, fault that YOU do not have a job
  • annymmo
    Amerika and a lot of other places needs to progress.
    More and better (more efficient) welfare.
    More public schools instead of private!
    That patents can expire is a good thing.
    Have technology do all the work, seriously make machines to do all the work and let everyone enjoy their life!
  • Martell1977
    Obamacare is the epitome of social division. The government will decide who gets what care and if they feel you are not worth the investment, they will let you die. Only the wealthy that can afford to pay for procedures out-right will get them, well, and those that the government feels are worth it.

    Obamacare is so great that Obama exempted himself and all of the Senate, Congress and their staff from it. Not to mention all the Unions that helped push for it are now wanting exemption.

    I find it funny that someone like Damon would make a movie like this, knowing that when Obamacare is in full effect, he will have the money to get whatever treatment he wants/needs.

    Insurance companies aren't great but at least they don't have death panels to convince you that your better off dying than fighting for treatment. Death panels was one of the parts Obama copied from Europe and is partly why so many Europeans come here for treatment after their government tells them to go home, take pain killers and die.

    The healthcare system needs to be fixed, but Obamacare is far from what is needed. Maybe if the "progressives" had let insurance companies compete across state lines, the competition would have kept the prices in check better. That and maybe enforcing our immigration laws...among other things. (FYI- there are progressives in both parties, most liberals are progressives and the GOP members Limbaugh calls "Establishment Republicans" are progressives, aka. McCain.)
  • DRosencraft
    So much ineptitude in so few comments... don't even know if it's worth saying more to it.

    At any rate, the question of managing social justice is one that has existed for a long time. A wealthy businessman decides he wants to start a beverage company and dams up a river. He can sell his drinks and even, say, donate bottled water to places that don't have clean water. But in the meantime he's ruined the businesses and lives of people who happen to live down river. A drug company creates a vaccine to a highly serious disease (or like how the Navy and others seem to be close to a Malaria vaccine). It costs millions if not billions to create, do they give it away to the 600,000+ people who die yearly from Malaria but make pennies a day, or charge for it and let those who can afford it, buy it. That is the heart of social justice. It is the question of the prevailing theory behind true capitalism versus theories of moral obligation and social equity. It's not a clear cut issue, and if you think it is then you're either lying to yourself or you're missing something.
  • dalethepcman
    Wow. Seeing these kinds of comments makes me wonder exactly who paid you aholes to come to Tom's and post political garbage.

    In the Immortal words from "Team America" - "Matt Damon"
  • ethanolson
    @shin0bi272, Social Justice = Mob Rule

    In other words, whatever the masses think is to their liking and to heck with due process. Progressivism just wants to define "enlightened selfishness" as social justice, but it's all about taking from the haves and giving some to me or at least it's under my control but it's OK because I'm also giving most of it to the have-nots... according to how I feel makes sense. Yeah... it's a tactic of sympathetic authoritarianism.
  • gnice3d
    The efficiency in which those in power convince the masses that the world's problems stem from the powerless is a frightening thing... I am saddened to see this mentality permeate into a site which is historically frequented by intelligent and informed people.
  • MaxTesla

    And there you have it folks, people who do not know whats in the bill but THINK they know

    The bill makes it illegal for insurance companies to drop you if you have a pre-existing condition

    There are no death panels

    Before Obamacare if you could not afford insurance you were on your own and if you had a pre-existing condition the insurance company could deny or take away your insurance

    That is anything is a death panel

    Now they cant do that, also Obamacare creates a market where everyone can see how much it would cost them to get insurance and you can compare

    Again no death panels

    Maybe you should actually read what is in the bill instead of sitting at home drinking beer, eating chips and having "ideas"
  • warezme
    Blaming government, at least in the US, is like blaming yourself for what is wrong with government. The focus should be on taking back the control and dominant power of large corporations controlled by the few to influence how and what is available to the people. Bringing back the manufacture of products back to US soil and increasing opportunity to smaller companies by breaking up super corporations. It is obvious that if a corporation is so big that it needs a bailout to keep the economy from suffering that it is a monopoly and illegal. Use your voices not to bicker on forums but to agree to change what it obviously wrong with your votes.