District 9 is one-sided from scene one. An alien craft descends to hover above Earth’s southern hemisphere and the South African government invades the ship to discover a multitude of “malnourished and weak” alien creatures. We never learn why the aliens land on Earth in the first place which is a huge plot connector/driver and potentially should inform the entire rest of the action. Did they get lost? Derailed off course from their original destination? Did they intend to land on Earth to hatch some scheme with humans? The latter is alluded to: Christopher, the lead/hero, sympathetic-character prawn, who, later in the film, teams up with human protagonist, Wikus, mentions that his mother ship contains the technology to cure Wikus’s condition and transmute him back to human DNA. Wikus had encountered a hapless situation with some mysterious black fluid found among Christopher’s belongings that turned Wikus into part-prawn.
To me, the entire axis of this film’s trajectory pivots on the presupposition that these aliens are malevolent with a sinister conspiracy to take over and dominate planet Earth. (Can you say contrived, anyone? Gee, what a novel portrayal of alienkind from human imagination.) For this (evil enemy whose motivations need to be curtailed before mass destruction of planet Earth and its inhabitants commences) is about the only reason that would justify what the white/human government and leaders do from act one, even though this assumption is never confirmed and makes all the difference insofar as whether herding the aliens into District 9 internment camps is justified or not.
I take issue with the fact that the premise of this film rests on the stereotype that the “other” is necessarily evil and conspiring to control our world and hijack our resources. But we, as the audience, never get the chance to gauge the intentions of the aliens since they have zero voice until about 2/3rds into the movie. All viewers are expected to do is gasp in horror and indignation as these “bad” and “violent” aliens (pejoratively called “prawns” to underline their bottom-feeding, detestable – to humans – nature) revolt and fight back against these humans who we are supposed to believe are doing them a favor by creating nice little communities for the “others” to inhabit. These communities are the lame and transparent metaphor of the slums that become of any population herded out from their homeland and forced to live in sub-human conditions (reservations, refugee camps…). Clearly, when any group is forced and trapped, “contained” in areas they did not freely choose, mayhem and rebellion is the natural outgrowth.
But forget all this, for this hackneyed plot to move on, we are supposed to accept that what the aliens are doing — um, duh, fighting back because they probably want to get the hell on with their trip but have been detained on Earth (oh but the writers conveniently forgot to let us know how the aliens landed here in the first place and whether they meant to stay — which we learn waaaaay later on was not their intention, once an alien is finally given a point of view) — we are supposed to believe the alien natural reaction for self-preservation and dignity is a bad thing and they, therefore, are menaces to the land and need to be evicted from this plot that wasn’t their choice to be forced to live on in the first place. So, now not only do the aliens have to inure and create a community from the first District set up for them by the oh-so-generous-with-their-resources South African government, they now are being evicted and told to move elsewhere … to, I suppose, another charming little, disease-infested refugee camp about which the audience is given zero information.
The audience is supposed to sympathize with the benevolent generosity of the South African government to, I imagine, not shoot all these “evil” aliens on the spot. Instead viewers are expected to curry warm support and approval to the government for doling out land from our precious home on which to “allow” these foreigners to live. Never mind, again, the horrid conditions created for them to dwell in. We’re just supposed to consider it doing them a favor. And when the prawns revolt, forget seeing it as an extremely reasonable reaction to tyrannical and exploitative regime seeking to control and trap them only for the sake of study as specimens for our knowledge and potential bearers of new information that Earthly science is yet to tap, we are merely asked to perceive the prawn revolt as sinister and more cause to unleash violence and abuse on any alien who looks at a human the wrong way.
Again, how is this different from any archetype of “Us vs. Them” whether it’s racial (oh and how convenient, District 9 is depicted in Johannesburg, South Africa, for a neat little apartheid parallel), class, religious, political … When will someone with real vision create a picture which transcends this limited and self-implosive paradigm and, horror-of-horrors, conceive of an extraterrestrial possibility wherein, A) the alien life is given a voice (even if humans cannot understand it – clearly subtitles are made for this ;]), B) not an automatically adversarial-to-humans voice, C) may actually be harbingers of altruism, cooperation, synergy, community-sharing, compassion, desire to work with and not against humans, to uplift and truly liberate modes of being/co-existing, and to progress to higher levels of consciousness, collectively, as humans, and, synergistically, with the universal energy as yet untapped but represented as a possibility with aliens who find their way to earth. (This is the same problem I had with Avatar … it still ends with an Us vs. Them struggle where “their” home has to be plundered for information and resources an avaricious earthly political agenda drives, rather than rising to a cooperative level of resolution.)
But alas, excessive, incessant, bang-bang-shoot-’em-gratuitously-up with guts literally splashing all over the camera of this grainy mock-documentary clearly sells more tickets at the box office.
I haven’t even dissected the several plot implausiblities as I got carried away on the abstract content behind the portrayal on the screen, but there are plenty of places where we’re supposed to suspend our disbelief and just buy the fact that, say, Wikus single handedly — oh, but with his new compatriot prawn, Christopher — breaks into top secret and top security government building to steal back the all-important “fluid” on which all the action of this film depends, and he was already a fugitive with all the military on lookout to capture/kill him. Oh and suddenly He-Man Wikus also happens to pilfer weapons of mass destruction from the compound of ooga booga Nigerian sorcerers who also want to kill him and harvest the DNA so they may assume the power of the magical alien prawns…
Though audiences and critics found District 9 “technically brilliant and emotionally wrenching,” and it was nominated for four Academy Awards — sure, the CGI aliens and special effects were impressive feats of imagination and engineering — this science fiction film lost all its merit for me due to such lack of vision and brutal reinforcements of damaging stereotypes.