Under the Radar

'Elysium': Space Travel for the 1%

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Elysium is the new movie from District 9 director Neil Blomkamp. It's the year 2154 and overpopulation has effectively ruined living conditions on planet Earth. The 1% have moved to a space station in Earth's orbit  that recreates all the luxuries we take for granted today.


Residents of the Elysium space station have access to instant-cure medical equipment and Matt Damon plays a factory worker determined to travel from Earth and breach security to get access to those machines. In his efforts to make the trip, he finds himself aligned with a broader resistance against the two-tiered society.

Matt Damon

Matt's character Max is a change of pace for the actor: he's tatted up, bulked up and Matt shaved his head for the role. As he prepares to take on the space station's security forces, he gets an biomechanical exoskeleton implanted and attached to aid his dying body in his fight.

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Blomkamp's pretty direct about his intentions here: his social commentary doesn't even bother to create fictional alien creatures to stand in for his real target: he's made a movie that talks straight up about the wealthiest sliver of the population's efforts to isolate itself from the broader society.

Is this kind of thing even possible? Here's the facts: what's left of the American space program is focused on deep-space exploration. Private companies like Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic are making near-space trips available to anyone who can afford them. Luxury resort space stations seem like the logical next step. 2154 might be a little soon for living quarters like the ones featured in Elysium, but technology will eventually make that possible: a spinning wheel in space that generates its own gravity is definitely on the agenda.

Matt Damon

The studio launched a movie website (itsbetteruphere.com) that pretends to advertise the space community; it's added a few more movie-specific promo sections as the release draws closer, but it initially just offered a peek into the marketing behind the fictional community.

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After a summer with a couple of good sci-fi movies that have almost zero basis in reality (Oblivion, Pacific Rim), it'll be interesting to see if one that's based on a future version of current reality can find an audience. Elysium is in theaters now.

Special thanks to Mark Uhran for the insights about the future of space travel. He's the former Director/Assistant Associate Administrator, International Space Station at the NASA Headquarters, Office of Space Operations. Mark gave us an excellent interview that Google Voice failed to record, a failure that's led to a total revamp of our recording protocols here at UTR. Next time we want to write about a sci-fi movie that features a space station, we're definitely going to give him a call again.

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