The Moviegoer: Aliens and Recognizing the Human “Other” in Attack the Block

Each week in The Moviegoer, Nick Olson examines new and upcoming films.

Entertainment is Attack the Block’s (Dir. Joe Cornish) primary aim—and toward that end it succeeds admirably. The comedic elements in this British sci-fi comedy work especially well in the latter half of the film, when the fight for survival between the inner city and outer space intensifies. And, yet, at a time when a lascivious, weekend-long bachelor party is a more fashionable comedic premise than, say, a satire on the fashion industry, Attack the Block is also a breath of comedic fresh air, because of its interesting premise.

The first attack on the South London block is not the alien invasion; it’s a rag-tag group of teenagers doing their best impression of a gang hold-up on an unsuspecting woman named Sam (Jodie Whittaker). Almost immediately after the robbery, the teenage attackers are themselves attacked by one of the invading aliens. But while the film could stop there, and gain some easy laughs via aliens attacking some pretentious gangsters, it delves further.

Through a series of events, Sam—much to her dismay—meets back up with the young gang. In their unlikely crisis, they must band together in order to survive. Bitten in the leg by one of the aliens, one of the boys needs medical attention. Sam, who happens to be an aspiring nurse, is able to take care of him—albeit with some understandable reluctance. And, in exchange, the fearless, block-protective gang ironically provides Sam with the protection that they had just earlier invaded.

What becomes apparent is that while Sam and the gang were alien to one another, they, in fact, live on the same block. Upon this recognition, Moses (John Boyega)—the gang’s 15 year old leader—exclaims to Sam that they would not have attacked her if they had known that she was living on the block. At first, Sam balks at his moral reasoning. But the film also depicts Sam’s moment of recognition about the “other,” when she sees the squalor Moses lives in, and the lack of familial support he has as a mere 15 year old. In both cases, it is a matter of Moses and Sam gaining a perspective of one another that can only come through the intimacy of recognition based on personal familiarity. And it is against the backdrop of a truly “alien” attack that they are able to recognize their mutual human dignity.

The film depicts mutual recognition and sympathy between the teenage gang and Sam. And in this intimacy, Moses—who provides a much better archetype than the supposed Caesar- as-Moses narrative in Rise of the Planet of the Apes—learns that power is not gained through dominating violence, but through self-sacrificial leadership. With the help of his new cohort, Sam, Moses is able, through self-sacrifice, to rid the block not only of the aliens, but of the alienation between classes of persons which breeds violence. And it is through this powerful form of love that Moses may yet lead his people out of the proverbial block.

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