District 9 is a science fiction film directed by Neill Blomkamp and written by Neill Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell. Three countries collaborated on directing and shooting the film: New Zealand, the United States, and South Africa. Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James are starring as main characters. The film’s idea came from a short movie that Blomkamp shot in 2006 which is called Alive in Joburg. District 9 combines fabricated reportages, interviews, experts’ opinions and raw footage to give the movie more depth and make the plot more appealing and believable.
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The plot of the film is revolving around the alien invasion which occurred in 1982 in Johannesburg. The aliens that came to the Earth, however, did not seek to destroy it or enslave humankind. In fact, there has been no direct contact with the aliens because they could not communicate with people at all. The aliens did not state their purpose of coming to the Earth; they also did not make any demands. Nobody knew what to expect. The governments of Johannesburg, in turn, decided to seal the landing zone and prevent any alien species from crossing the borders of the area. Over the course of years, the curiosity of Johannesburg’s citizens shifted to extreme intolerance towards the “prawns” which is the nickname of alien species that the investigation teams that first entered the alien ship created.
In 2010, Wikus van de Merwe – the character of Sharlto Copley – is assigned to lead the relocation of alien species from the ninth district to newly created internment camp. During the procedure, Wikus contacts an unidentified liquid contained in an alien device. The liquid was important to the aliens because it was a component needed to set in motion the processes to pilot the alien mothership.
Wikus starts to rapidly turn into one of the alien species which leads to him being captured and experimented on by the government. The protagonist then escapes the facility he was held in and contacts the aliens that had the device. The alien named Christopher Johnson tries to launch the mothership. He promises Wikus to return in three years to help him become human again under the condition that Wikus will help him. In the end, Wikus is shown as a fully transformed “prawn” which leaves the viewer to decide whether or not he can become human once again.
As stated by Clarke in his article in The Johannesburg Salon journal, District 9, as well as some other science fiction films shot in Johannesburg, demonstrates how a person can become alienated on biological and social levels (15). Indeed, the theme of existing as an alien – both metaphorically and literally – runs throughout the whole movie. It is demonstrated through the example of the protagonist and alien species that are hated in the society and considered unstable and malevolent towards humans.
Kapstein states in her research that “critics regularly read District 9 as a redemption narrative of the white man who needs to go through a truth-and-reconciliation-like process in order to be reconfigured” (168). Therefore, the film’s plot may be interpreted in another way. The main protagonist begins to change both outside and inside which leads him to understand the oppressed better. This may be a metaphor describing the changes that a dominant race must undergo to fully grasp what it is like to be one of the race that is oppressed. It is even truer when one notices that the aliens in District 9 are indeed oppressed and dominated upon by the Johannesburg’s government and people.
The themes presented in the movie and the plot itself are, of course, mostly action-based and may not apply to any kind of currently existing social issues. However, with the same probability, District 9 may be viewed as a metaphor for a number of problems that perturb modern society. Having this in mind, one can use this film to reflect upon these questions and interpret the plot in any way that they see fit.
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Clarke, Paul. “Of Animals and Others: Life, Histories, and the Anthropocene in Johannesburg Science Fiction.” The Johannesburg Salon, vol. 10, 2016, pp. 14-20.
Kapstein, Helen. “The Hysterics of District 9.” English Studies in Canada, vol. 40, no. 1, 2014, pp. 155-175.