A district for a critic

District 9

Starring Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, David James, Vanessa Haywood, Mandla Gaduka
Directed by Neill Blomkamp

Custodians and ushers at a local multiplex arrived at work on Monday after a busy weekend and could not open the doors to the theater showing the film District 9. Try as they might, they could not seem to pry them open, nor did it seem that the doors were locked from the inside. The crew was unsure how long the doors had been jammed shut, but they had been open for the previous weekend screenings.

Eventually, a blowtorch was used to cut through the doorknob, and the ushers and custodians cautiously walked inside. It was dark and humid. The lights did not work, so they used flashlights. When they arrived at the seats, they could not see much beyond the shine of their flashlights, but they could hear some breathing. When they shone their flashlights on some rows near the back, they saw a couple of weird creatures. They were human — but somehow not human. The creatures were disorientated, dehydrated and meek. As the ushers got closer, the beings appeared skittish and frightened. There were just three of them, huddled together and shivering.

One of the ushers asked them who they were. At first, the beings were startled and silent. Then one of them started to talk, which caused the other two to start talking as well. At first it was incomprehensible gibberish — something about fumbling for the exits but not being able to work the doors — and some fractured words about being too shell-shocked to cry for help. After the usher asked them to calm down and speak one at a time, one of them began to speak, but it was in some weird cadence.

Oh! We are so glad you found us. We have been trapped here for ... I don’t know how long. We came here seeking some quality cinematic fare to review and stumbled upon this film called District 9. You see, we are film critics.

With that, the ushers and custodians let out a collective gasp. They all stepped back as if to avoid being contaminated by these creatures. Yet, they kept their flashlights trained on the three beings and continued to listen.

As we watched this film unspool, we all got increasingly uncomfortable. It started out OK. An alien spaceship is stalled over Johannesburg, South Africa. The effects are interesting, and these events are depicted like a documentary, sort of like Cloverfield — as if they are actually happening in real time. Attempts are made to communicate with the spacecraft and find out what it is and why it is here. But there is no response. Finally, the humans cut open a door to find the aliens inside huddled and starving.

The ushers and custodians moved in closer and continued to listen. One of the other three critics took up where his colleague left off.

Again, that seemed intriguing. But then, we all started to feel odd. The film seemed to cause our mood to change. That’s because the film started to make no sense. We struggled to stay engaged and suspend disbelief, but we were in the grips of some sort of transformation.

One of the custodians got spooked, slowly backed away and quietly made his way out of the theater. The third critic continued.

That’s right. We were getting more and more uncomfortable. The film fails to explain why this spaceship — ostensibly our first encounter with extraterrestrial life — does not capture the attention of the entire world. Why were there no scientific examinations? Why were there no international efforts to understand the alien technology and determine why they are here and what they want? Why were there no efforts to help these visitors? Why doesn’t Johannesburg become a mecca of curiosity seekers and news coverage, and why doesn’t this become a life-changing moment in human history? Why does the rest of humanity not seem to give a damn about these aliens?!

The first critic chimed in again.

Yeah, and why weren’t there concerns about alien viruses when the spaceship’s door was cut open with a blowtorch? And why weren’t humans worried about exposing the aliens to an earthbound virus? It’s all so bizarre!

The critics were clearly getting agitated, and the ushers and custodians started to get uncomfortable themselves.

Instead, it’s all treated as if this hovering spacecraft and the aliens inside are a pesky nuisance. The aliens are weird looking — like some kind of tall, bipedal, upright-walking lobsters. The film suggests that they possess powerful weapons, but they let the humans find them and take them. Then the humans shuttle all the aliens down to the surface and cordon them off in some shantytown.

One of the other critics continued.

Yeah, but then if these aliens are so advanced technologically that they can travel through space, why did they allow this to happen? How come the aliens were not able to fix their own ship? Instead, they are shown as dimwitted, clumsy, belligerent beasts who scavenge for food and cannot even build decent housing. That makes no sense!

The critics’ speech was now more animated and louder, and they started to talk over each other.

As the film continues, the documentary style is mysteriously dropped. Why is that? As things get increasingly tense with the aliens and clashes occur, the humans resolve to move them into a more secure and isolated area. But why did the aliens allow this? And we learn that humans can understand the aliens’ weird clicking language. We can understand their language, but we can’t seem to care enough to understand and learn their technology to help the aliens get their ship working again. It’s baffling! And how come the human relocation effort is so sloppy and unorganized? If these aliens are so dangerous, why assign a dimwitted human and trigger-happy jarheads to do the job?

They keep going, firing off comments and questions as the ushers and custodians get more and more frightened.

And when one of the humans gets contaminated with some alien liquid — And what’s up with that fluid, anyway? Why do the aliens just discard it and have to spend 20 years finding it and remaking it? And how come it even affects humans? — And when he starts to evolve into one of them, why do the humans want to immediately dissect him? Why not examine him, take some tests, spend the time to determine how it happened, and learn how it progresses instead of treating him like some kind of violent psycho patient?

And why don’t the aliens know that some of their people are being dissected in gruesome experiments? And how are they able to secretly transport one of their space shuttles to the surface? And how come only one of the aliens seems to be at work trying to get the ship started again while all the rest are being thuggish, mischievous and unruly miscreants?!

And why, when one of the aliens finds out that his people are being dissected, does he not try to rescue his people while he can?! And when the evolving human chops off some of his now-alien arm, why doesn’t he go into shock, pass out or bleed to death?! And why would the evolving human knock unconscious the one member of the alien species who could help him? The one who can fly the shuttle — which the human does not even know how to fly?! And how come the dialogue between the evolving human and his wife is so cheesy and hokey?! And how come the aliens don’t do a better job of protecting their young and nurseries?!

And how come this film contains a scene with a talking killer so that he can be ...

The custodian who left earlier rushed into the theater with security guards. The commotion caused the ushers and custodians to stand aside. The security guards took control and surrounded the three critics, who were still loudly and busily making comments and raising questions. The guards handcuffed the critics and quickly shuttled them out the exits and into waiting vans labeled “Critic District 10.” One usher asked where they were being taken, and one of the security guards said all film critics — especially those who cannot appreciate films that are obvious metaphors for racial segregation and discrimination — were being rounded up and sent to a special camp where they would never bother anyone again.

And the usher went back inside and unlocked the main theater doors for the start of another work week.

Doug Young, The Statesman’s film critic, provides various perspectives in his reviews, thereby fulfilling his role as a master film critic.