Tuesday, October 9, 2012

District 9 Movie Review

I studied social sciences in college. I majored in psychology, but also studied sociology and anthropology. There are very few movies I’ve come across that made me as giddy and excited over its social commentary as District 9 (2009) did. You could almost call District 9 “Sociology: The Movie.” And even outside the social commentary, it’s a great sci-fi film!
In 1982, a massive starship bearing a bedraggled alien population appeared over Johannesburg, South Africa. The alien species were nicknamed “Prawns.” Twenty-eight years later, the initial welcome by the human population has faded. The refugee camp where the aliens were located has deteriorated into a militarized ghetto called District 9, where they are confined and exploited in squalor. In 2010, the munitions corporation, Multi-National United (MNU), is contracted to forcibly evict the Prawn population. Wikus van der Merwe (Sharlto Copley), a timid, pencil-pushing bureaucrat is put in charge of the operation. While trying to force Prawns to sign eviction notices, Wikus is exposed to some alien biotechnology which causes his DNA to mutate. Since the alien weapons and technology only react to the Prawns themselves, Wikus becomes the key to unlocking the technology for human use. He becomes the most wanted man on the planet. Ostracized and isolated, Wikus has to rely on the oppressed and bitter Prawns for help.
I can’t speak highly enough about District 9. The acting is fantastic and believable. The special effects and visuals are amazing and eye-catching. And above all, the story is intricate, well-written, and compelling. It presents themes such as humanity, xenophobia, and social segregation. The story and setting are quite elaborate; I could go on for pages from a literary standpoint. Yet it is still presented in a very understandable and straightforward way.
While District 9 is without a doubt science fiction, it’s still verisimilar. It parallels some racial segregation that occurred in Cape Town, South Africa. In District 9 there are actions being taken to move the Prawns out of the city and to a remote location. If you’re familiar with the events of 1966 you may recall Cape Town declaring its District 6 to be a “whites only” region, resulting in all housing being demolished and over 60,000 non-whites were forcibly removed. Another point worth mentioning is how the Prawns speak in their alien language which is made up of clicking sounds. The alien language is not unlike Bantu, the language spoken by some black African populations, which to the untrained ear sounds like clicking.
There is a very strong theme of xenophobia, racism, and prejudices in District 9. The film starts out like a documentary, cutting away to sociologists for commentary or to people on the streets giving their opinion. This was a brilliant story-telling device that made the movie seem more realistic and fact-based. These nameless characters state that they don’t care where the aliens go, they just can’t stay here. Others comment on calling the aliens Prawns, saying they are ugly like the crustaceans, and they are clearly bottom-feeders. “Prawn” is indeed meant to be a derogatory term for the aliens in this movie. And really, if you simply substitute terms like “black,” “Asian,” “Mexican,” “Jew,” or any number of labels that are used derogatorily in place of the word “Prawn,” the subtext of racial prejudice becomes even more blatantly evident. District 9 is essentially an action film about xenophobia, where all races of humans are united in their dislike and mistrust of an alien species.
District 9 was a fairly low budget film that employed some very busy CGI artists. The computer animation and motion capture was remarkable. No two Prawns looked exactly alike, and even the important Prawn characters moved a bit differently. Even though the Prawn characters were computer animated, they still portrayed a sense of humanity and emotion despite having several sets of antennae and maxillipeds sticking out of their face. The explosions and alien weaponry were really fun to see as well. We aren’t really told what the full extent of the weapons are, we just see a few of them do some pretty neat things like create a lightning-strewn black cloud in the wake of an explosion or catch incoming bullets.
I really could go on about this movie, but suffice it to say I really liked District 9 a whole lot. Even the characters are convincing; it’s so interesting to see Wikus become more humane as he physically becomes less human. I highly recommend seeing this movie, but be warned, there is a lot of profanity and gratuitous violence in it. Even after several viewings I still find myself cringing. It’s so well implemented that it is not a fault, but it would probably deter some viewers. It’s certainly not a movie for young kids to see. I’ve got a copy of this on Blu-Ray sitting on my shelf along with other favorites of mine.

What is your favorite movie alien? Comment below and tell me why!


  1. I think you touched all the important points that showed parallels between the movie and the Apartheid South Africa. I actually believe that even the excessive profanity and violence were also mediums to show the hatred between people during that era. I couldn’t have made a better review of District 9 if I tried. Great job!

    1. Thanks so much Wally! I'm glad you liked the review. I probably could have gone one for pages about how and why District 9 is such a good movie. I rarely get as giddy and excited over social commentary as I did here.
      You make a good point; the violence and profanity were used meaningfully to illustrate the hatred and antagonism people had toward the aliens. I don't really like hearing that sort of language, but it was used meaningfully in District 9.
      Thanks for your comments and check back often for other reviews!