District 9

bird totemI don’t like scary movies.  I must admit that I’m highly sensitive and despite all attempts to tell myself that, “it’s just a movie,” they have a way of grabbing me and swamping my defenses; I end up inside the movie’s world and get spit back out with nerves frayed.

My younger son loves scary movies.  In the past he tricked me into seeing I am Legend by telling me that it was about a scientist in New York City trying to cure a disease, and that it got good reviews.  All true, but he left out the fact that the good scientist was the only human in New York City and that the rest of the population was flesh-eating zombies.  Now amongst horror movie monsters, I fear zombies the most; just something about being eaten by the undead that creeps me out.  It was a rather good movie—just a little embarrassing to be more scared than my twelve-year-old.

So when my kid recently suggested that we see District 9, I was savvy enough to read the New Yorker review first, scanning for zombies.  While the review did say that the film eventually becomes something like a zombie movie, the themes and general set-up were intriguing enough (the review ends by saying that the film “suggests that sometimes the only way to become fully human is to be completely alienated.”), and so I found myself tempted back into the sci-fi horrors of the black lagoon on a hot summer’s matinee… and it ended up being one of the best movies I’ve seen in a while.

Firstly, District 9 is actually about something—which is more than I can say of many films lately; in an inspired touch, it sets human alien apartheid in South Africa where it makes us more deeply question the way we humans treat “differences,” thus showing a sort of species-driven meta-racism.  Secondly, the film is subversive—which is something I really appreciate in “art”—offering new perspective and inviting a shift in consciousness.  Thirdly, District 9 is not artsy or self-conscious, a quality that can sometimes elevate pop culture to true “art.”  This is a true zeitgeist film.

While this movie is not appropriate for kids younger than thirteen or so, if your children are still young, it’s nevertheless worth seeing without the kids—and if you have teens, this movie is likely to hit an interesting chord with them.  For example, when the unlikely protagonist of the film starts to morph into one of the aliens (which the humans call “prawns”) it echoes those classic werewolf writhings which always seemed to symbolize emerging sexuality in its bestial form; and as gross as the prawns may appear, I think most of us adults will find them more palatable than the overwrought sexual pretense of Twilight

District 9’s classic theme of “I don’t know who I am becoming” is central to adolescence, and it’s also central to existentialism; think of Sartre’s Nausea and the protagonist thinking that his own hand looked like a white worm when he reaches for his door knob and the stranger in the mirror at the café is his own alienated self.

District 9 becomes oddly emotional and evocative in the relationship it crafts between the transforming human and one of the brighter aliens, while still managing to be action-packed and exciting.  Finally, in an age where the shamans of old are potentially to be found within each and every one of us, the protagonist of District 9 serves as something of a hybrid man-beast, making him an unlikely, and unseeking, discoverer of secret knowledge, higher truth and bio-tech power.  The everyman/woman as shaman offers a glimpse of what is, arguably, an archetype with our human consciousness (from the hero with a thousand faces to the shaman with a thousand “faces” ranging from insect to bird to alien); it also offers a new gloss on the timeless question (pre-dating Plato’s cave) of perceiving “truth.”  We all know that “big brother” has been watching for decades now, perhaps we are also realizing that “big brother” doesn’t know what he’s looking at.  District 9 gets you cheering for the aliens and for the just-waking-up, and formerly witless everyman, and for this alone I give it a parenting thumb’s up. 

So, let’s dedicate today to popcorn movies, and being transported by art—and let’s put our fun in the service of waking up to the well-being of all our collective children (those seemingly less developed beings, initially arriving as “aliens,” who are truly our superiors… if only we can stop ourselves from making them conform to the commercialized and bogus world that we have already nearly ruined).

Namaste, Bruce

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2 Responses to “District 9”

  1. Kevin Says:

    Bruce, you truly have a gift for understanding and explaining human behavior in an enlightened, meaningful way. Your retelling of your experience of D9 resonated with me deeply. Yours is one of the few voices that pierces the incessant cacophony of ignorance and fear-driven people who seem to cave in so easily to demagoguery and unbrideled consumerism. When I read your blog, it reminds me that even though far outnumbered, there does exist a community of healers and thinkers who live life with a purpose that goes beyond just ego gratification. D9 can be a meaningful experience to some. I think your voice just might elucidate its potential meaning to others if they just stop and listen. Thanks Bruce.

  2. Zombie Love: Relinquishing Fear… one horror movie at a time « Privilegeofparenting’s Blog Says:

    […] Crazies would be an excellent double-feature (double-renter) with District 9 with which it shares both themes and an uncanny ability to place us in the place of the […]

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