District Nine

We watched the South African movie District Nine last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. There are so many layers to this movie, which has received rave reviews. I’m a little surprised by its universal appeal because much of the inherent humour and self-mocking would be understood only by South Africans, but perhaps I’m being too parochial in my outlook.

Our unlikely hero, Wikus van der Merwe, finds himself thrust into the forefront of an action to evict the extraterrestrial aliens who have been living in squalor on the outskirts of Johannesburg for the past two decades. Even his name would have most South Africans rolling around in the aisles. Who would have van der Merwe, the butt of most South African jokes, as their hero? And then listen to how he speaks, that quick, high voice, unctuous and ingratiating – until the chips are down. He is the archetype of so many Afrikaners from the bad old days of apartheid. Sharlto Copley is brilliant in this role, capturing the essence of the Afrikaner bureaucrat to a tee.

The movie goes on to mock each South African stereotype in turn. We have the obligatory Nigerians; the tough ex-army men hell bent on wreaking vengeance on helpless unarmed aliens – the typical bully; the pretty young blonde; the father who disowns his treacherous son; I could go on and on.

And then there are the themes. The first and overt theme is the fight between good and evil, resulting in a violent battle between the opposing forces. But hold on. We don’t only have one baddy; there are at least two, from opposing camps and across colour bars. And then what is Wikus? Is he a hero or a bad guy? We do have the expected love interest but with a slight twist: Wikus is already married to her and her father is the one who thrusts Wikus into his improbable role and then persuades his daughter to betray Wikus. Some of the other themes are the racism and the xenophobia which pervade the culture. These are not one and the same but distinctly separate as xenophobia at times unites otherwise hostile cultures against a common ‘enemy’.

My verdict? An excellent movie with so many layers it would be worth watching again and again.

Buy the DVD and related products from Amazon: http://www.authorsally.net/AmazonDistrictNine

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