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Can the Movie “Elysium” Explain Immigration Today?

Categories: North America, U.S.A., Citizen Media, Ethnicity & Race, Film, Migration & Immigration, Politics

Elysium [1], a movie set in the year 2155 starring Matt Damon [2] and Jodie Foster [3], takes a stab at the health care system in the United States, but it also offers an insight into the country’s immigration system if comprehensive reform [4] takes place—sort of. [Warning: This article may contain some spoilers.]

The film, directed by Neill Blomkamp [5], takes place on a state-of-the-art space habitat called Elysium in an overpopulated and ravaged planet Earth.

Matt Damon in his leading role on "Elysium." Photo taken from YouTube.

Matt Damon in his leading role on “Elysium.” Photo taken from YouTube.

Elysium centers its focus on a former convict named Max (Damon), whose deplorable health condition forces him to seek the services of a criminal political leader who also wants to get a hold of Elysium’s exceptional health care resources in order to find a cure for ailing earth inhabitants. Nevertheless, they will face Elysium’s rogue Secretary of Defense Delacourt (Foster), who relentlessly keeps inhabitants (or as the movie calls them, “illegals”) from entering Elysium at all costs.

At the beginning of the movie, a space ship carries a large number of immigrants in an attempt to enter Elysium, to which Delacourt orders a merciless takedown. Albeit not in the same fashion, law enforcement has been an important component in the passage of S.744 bill [6] on June 27, 2013, so as to halt immigration influx at the border.

As Elysium unravels, one would think that the main reason these “illegals” want to flee planet Earth for a more comfortable life in Elysium is paralleled to the reason why many immigrants decide to cross the border and find a better life in the United States (of course, the U.S. being the “Elysium” for all hopeful immigrants overseas).

The movie also shows that immigrants go to Elysium to find better health care, but they need to become Elysium citizens in order to enjoy it. In real life, many undocumented immigrants face the same problem, as they don’t have access to health care.

Before entering into the weeds of immigration discussion, blogs such as ThinkProgress [7] explain that Elysium falls short in explaining why health care in the spatial satellite is better than on Earth:

“But Elysium falls apart the more you think about it–and fails in its mission to speak truth to power–because of its inability to explain a simple question: why is health care scarce on Earth in the world of Elysium? The movie shows us many ways that life in Elysium is more comfortable and satisfying than life on earth, but Blomkamp focuses his camera narrowly on people on Earth who want to get to Elysium mainly for access to medical pods that can cure even grave illnesses with a single, quick scan.”


ThinkProgress goes on to say:

“And at the conclusion of the movie, they get it. After Spider and Max download a program into the Elysium mainframe that makes everyone on Earth a citizen, and thus able to be scanned by the devices, shuttles full of the pods take off for Earth where people of all races, genders, and creeds flock to make use of them. It’s not as if there’s a medical device scarcity. There could be other reasons that health care is restricted, but it’s not particularly made clear in the movie what those motives might be.”


Applying the latter paragraph to real life, one can imply that legalizing the immigration status of 11 million people in the United States will ensure a better quality of life for them. As the Immigration Policy Center [8] points out:

Including legal immigrants in the health care system not only strengthens the system, but is a critical part of their integration into U.S. society. In addition to working, paying taxes, and learning English, legal immigrants should be able to pay their fair share and have affordable health care like everyone else.

When asked whether the film depicts what human conditions will be like in 140 years, Blomkamp answered: “No, no, no. This isn't science fiction. This is today. This is now.” In terms of immigration, Blomkamp may not be that far from the truth.

The movie opens with younger Max envisioning a life in Elysium while his caring nun explains to him that his life is destined for a greater purpose—all this spoken in Spanish.

Elysium paints the United States as a country that has been overtaken by Latinos and whose de jure language is Spanish, when signs in local offices and factories contain larger Spanish-written signs and law enforcement referred to as “Policía.”

Many experts consider that by the year 2050, Hispanics and other communities of color will become America’s largest group, so we won’t have to wait till 2154 to see this come true. Perhaps by opening a roadmap to citizenship to all hopeful U.S. residents, rather than seeing a grim planet Earth (or in this case, the U.S.) we will see a boon in years to come.

Lastly, one thing we can also draw from the movie is that no society, as perfect as it intends to be, can turn a blind eye on its inhabitants and their needs –and approaching the case of immigration is the first step towards understanding human stories [9].