I’m Not Sorry for Noticing What the Filmmakers Meant to be Noticed…


”]Cover of "District 9 [Blu-ray]"First of all, District 9 is nota bad movie. I am allowed to simultaneously respect the film and dislike it. I am also capable of respecting others’ love for the film, while pointing out its weaknesses.

Before seeing District 9, I didn’t know anything about it other than it was about aliens. My students think it’s awesome, which, to me, suggests that it’s lots of twists, adventure, and blood. Spot on, right?

It is also a social commentary on South African apartheid.

I’m not reading more into this than the filmmakers meant for me to. The film is about the relocation of a group of aliens from one ghetto to another because the humans don’t want to be so close to them. It takes place in Africa. It’s called District 9.

It took me all of about 12 seconds to notice the parallels between that and District 6. I don’t know much world history at all, but I know about Nelson Mandella and why he’s important. I wasn’t over-reaching or overthinking it. District 9 is a movie about apartheid. If you don’t believe me, do a Google search on “District 6”. I haven’t actually done a search on it, but I’m pretty sure you’ll find exactly what I think you’ll find.

I’ve felt judged a couple of times recently because I notice stuff like this and because I’m an analytical reader and movie-watcher. I’m not the kind of girl who can view District 9 as a fun film about aliens… and I’m glad I’m not that kind of girl.

Sorry to burst the bubble, but film and literature aren’t just entertainment.

Ever.

Film and literature reflect and shape thought. I don’t like District 9 because I believe it’s a film about apartheid that reflects and shapes something horrible.

Is it bad to write a story that realistically shows the horrors of apartheid?

Absolutely not!

However, I believe that horror should always be paired with hope.

Always.

And I believe it’s irresponsible writing to tell hopeless stories.

It’s perfectly okay to tell a story like Dances With Wolves where one culture destroys another. I cry every time I see that movie, and I love it.

However, Dances With Wolves isn’t only a story about the enormous tragedy of abuse, relocation and discrimination against Native Americans. It’s also the story of how one man grows up. He learns to love that which is different from himself… and when he’s faced with a moral dilemma, he makes the difficult choice that’s good and right. There are consequences to that choice. Yet it’s a film that leaves us with hope because one man became a bit more compassionate. One man learned to fight for what is good in this world.

I didn’t like District 9 because the one man didn’t actually seem to change. Society didn’t change. The bad guys stayed bad. The idiots stayed idiots. And there wasn’t a single character who I hoped in.

I know that all of you are like, “But what about Christopher? He’s going to come back in three years and make everything better.”

First of all, the end doesn’t justify the means. Christopher deceived our protagonist by making him believe he’d quickly fix the alien arm… and then Christopher left without doing that. You can go on and on about the greater good all you want, but you will never convince me that Christopher is a redeemable character. Good guys do the right thing regardless of the cost… because goodness is more important than an individual or society, and standing up for it ALWAYS is the primary characteristic of the good guy hero.

Also, Christopher’s character was not developed enough for us to know anything about him except that he’s smart and non-violent.

So… I’m supposed to hope in a guy who is intelligent, non-violent and yet betrays someone who trusted him?

And one more thing about finding hope in Christopher… not only does the end NOT justify the means… we don’t actually know what the end is. At the end of the film, Christopher leaves his fellow aliens on Earth to continue suffering for at least three years. Do we really think that someone who betrays one person won’t betray an entire planet? I’m not convinced Christopher is coming back because we have no evidence that he’s the kind of guy who will.

Option #2 for the good guy is our protagonist whose name I’m not going to look up. Our protagonist starts out being an idiot who loves his wife and does horrible things as his father-in-law’s puppet. Although he’s not quite a jerk (because he’s too ignorant to be one), he doesn’t start out with much for us to like. As the film progresses, he’s forced to empathize with the aliens, which you’d think would make him into a good guy.

It doesn’t.

He never thanks Christopher for anything, never admits that he was wrong, never displays personal growth. at. all.

When Christopher betrays him a little, he betrays Christopher a lot. He makes one good choice in the entire film, and I’m not even sure why he makes it. I think there’s a decent chance that he makes it because he’s tired and has given up… and that doesn’t make him a redeemable character either. I want my good guys to do the right thing intentionally… not because they’re too lazy to do the thing they’d really like to do.

I won’t settle for a good guy who isn’t good.

In similar fashion, I can’t watch films like District 9 and just enjoy them. I didn’t enjoy it because I expect more out of my films, just like I expect more out of my characters.

By all means, write about apartheid. Write about how bad it is. Write about characters who are impacted by it… but neverNEVERNEVER judge another person for disliking a movie with unredeemable characters, an unredeemable society and no hope in sight. I don’t judge others for thinking it’s a fun movie about aliens and adventure. I don’t judge them for neglecting to notice that it’s a commentary on the real world. I encourage everyone reading this post to enjoy District 9. I hope it brings you great joy and I’m not at all being sarcastic. There are plenty of films that bring me great joy that other people hate. For example: I love Transformers. I love it. I also love The Lizzie Magwire Movie and a lot of other films that I fully admit have horrible flaws.

Agree with me or not, it’s not a bad thing for me to be critical of a film that is critical of the world we live in. If it was a light-hearted film about a red balloon, I’d spend a lot less time being critical of it.

But it isn’t that kind of film.

The writers wrote it to be thought about. They intentionally drew parallels between the film and the real world. They want us to analyze it! They were trying to get people to notice District 6, but unfortunately, we live in a society that cares more about the fiction. We live in a society where I’m judged as overly-analytical for examining the things the filmmakers meant for us to examine. For Pete’s sake! The film was about one group of people judging another and mistreating people who are different from them. It’s ridiculous that more than one person has been rude and judgmental towards me for my thoughts about the film.

Ah… the irony of judging others for thinking differently about a film about the horrors of judging others who are different.

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6 thoughts on “I’m Not Sorry for Noticing What the Filmmakers Meant to be Noticed…

      • I saw that movie too! There was no talking right? Just the little boy and the red balloon wandering around some city. And then it pops. I actually hate that movie. I don’t care that he ends up with hundreds of other balloons. I was still sad that he lost the red one. I was apparently a very sentimental kid.

  1. The intriguing thing about District 9 was that they pulled a huge marketing bait-and-switch in an incredibly deceptive manner. Having gone to see it opening weekend, my friends and I purchased what we saw in the trailer: a thoughtless action film that could make for an enjoyable evening. I picked up on the apartheid message within minutes and felt cheated. Like yourself, I wouldn’t have had a problem viewing an apartheid movie…had they not purposely marketed the film towards an audience with little inclination to notice.

    For example, one of my favorite movies is Traffic; it opened my eyes to a dark world closer to home than I previously believed. My first response was, “Every parent needs to watch this movie.” But suppose Soderbergh had said to himself, “If we market this film like a Harold & Kumar movie, every ignorant person will be exposed to the truth unwittingly.” The ignorant people still would have missed the point, and those who understood would be angry that some director thought he could backdoor his political agenda.

    All that to say, I may have enjoyed District 9 had Blomkamp not presumed me to be a shallow oaf in need of disguised education. He seemed to want the best of both worlds by writing a smart film that could draw a big-budget audience — as a result, he frustrated both crowds.

    • A.W. – I completely agree with you. I told one person that I felt like I was being preached at, and they didn’t get what I was saying, because I wasn’t saying it well. I think I had the jipped feeling you commented on.

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