How Matt Damon’s ‘Elysium’ Pays Tribute to George W. Bush (Spoilers)

President George W. Bush holds Baron Mosima Loyiso Tantohafter speaking on AIDS relief funding in May 2007. Photo via CNN

Beware, major spoilers ahead. 

I wrote about how the dystopian future in Matt Damon’s Elysium is bleak enough to make one want to become a Republican.

The film pits wealthy but mean people who live in the sky against poor, downtrodden masses on Earth. The skydwellers have magic tanning booth-like beds that will heal any ailment. For free. And they won’t share this magic medicine with the crippled and ailing masses.

Because they’re mean.

But as I watched the ending of the film, I couldn’t help but think of how reality is the opposite story, one of which all Americans should be proud.

When Max (Matt Damon) succeeds, as you knew he would, the magic medical tanning booths of Elysium descend to the surface of the Earth. The crippled, injured, infirm, and elderly hobble joyfully toward them and ecstatically partake in the suddenly ubiquitous healing.

It’s a lovely scene, as those without hope suddenly are given hope. The dying are given life. The crippled are given wholeness. Parents of ill children watch their little ones play and celebrate.

What’s not to love about that?

In real life, of course, medicine costs. It is not magic and free. Doctors must be trained and paid, supplies cost money, and drugs costs a great deal to develop. It is not meanness that keeps the supply limited. It is reality. Rich people like Steve Jobs sometimes die of cancer, despite their resources, because medicine isn’t all powerful.

But there’s no denying that money helps and a large part of the world is desperately poor. The differences between Malibu and Compton shrink when compared to, say, rural Senegal.

Which is why when you give medicine away, it creates that beautiful scene in the movie in real life. I could not help thinking of Dubya when I saw the final scene.

Ten years ago, under the  personal and passionate leadership of  George W. Bush, America decided that we could not keep life-giving AIDS medicine to ourselves when the masses in Africa were dying from the terrible disease. The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS (PEPFAR) has spent millions* of American dollars and provided medication to millions of HIV positive Africans and citizens of other disadvantaged regions.

(Here’s Obama complimenting Bush on the program in Tanzania in July.)

These were drugs that American capitalist countries developed because, frankly, it takes a capitalistic system to invest and develop new medications.

Given away simply because it was the right thing to do.

Because we’re not mean.

John Kerry celebrated the 10th Anniversary of PEPFAR in June and we can honestly say we can anticipate eradicating the disease. This was unthinkable ten years ago. It is nothing short of a miracle and would not have happened if the rich had not freely and bountifully given away our medical help.

Thanks, George W. Bush!

But don’t take my word for it. Listen to Matt Damon, who told the Atlantic in 2012 “I would kiss George W. Bush on the mouth for what he did on PEPFAR.”

This is, of course, just one shining example of the help the West sends to the world.

The movie promotes a false idea of capitalism as evil and universal health care as a solution. But reality is much richer and better.

Correction: The US has spent billions, not millions of dollars on PEPFAR.

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About Rebecca Cusey

Rebecca is a movie critic. Check out her work on Rotten Tomatoes. Follow her on Twitter @Rebecca_Cusey

  • MeanLizzie

    What a staggeringly beautiful child!

  • Erika

    I posted this on your original blog about this subject but it never appeared. So…trying again

    “In fact, the only person with any enterprise in the entire movie, from Elysium or
    Earth, the only one who actually produces a something of value, presumably to
    sell, is a random woman with a cart full of pigs.”

    Actually you are missing a huge example of ingenuity and resource by the earth people – Spider’s tech expertise and smuggling
    operation. He was creating something of value and his tech was good enough
    outsmarted Elysium’s.

    The larger point I would like to make, though, is that I don’t agree with your premise that the movie will (inadvertendly, against the wishes of the film’s creators) make some viewers see conservatism and capitalism as the salvation or answer etc to society’s woes.

    Rather I think the movie plays very well to the common understanding of
    conservative/Republicans’ motivations, stated or otherwise.

    Immigration.
    Because of the election Republicans now agree there needs to be immigration
    reform but it is not hard to imagine that they would prefer to stick to their
    old “build a wall/self-deport them” mentality.

    Healthcare.
    A major objection to Obamacare has been that people are afraid that THEIR
    healthcare will be disrupted. Never mind that our current model is
    unsustainable and will continue to drive health costs to unsustainable
    heights. Also suspect there is – as the
    movie portrayed – a sense of the”I don’t want to sit next to the unwashed
    masses in a doctor’s waiting room” mentality among such people. I read that the new IRS commissioner has said
    he doesn’t want to lose his government funded health care, for example. Which
    is fine, and understandable – who wouldn’t want to be on the federal
    government’s plan — but would he be willing to share that system with, say,
    me. I am a freelancer and buy my insurance on the open market. I would love to
    be able to buy from the federal system. Heck I would even pay full price for
    it. Yet when that suggestion was floated in 2008 Republicans went into
    hysterics.

    The freedom/liberty flag.

    The Jodi Foster character waived “we need to commit
    these human rights violations in the name of our freedom, liberty” flag.
    Now here I am going to give you that Obama is continuing many of the same
    policies that Bush started—and he waived the freedom flag to sneak these
    initiatives by Congress and by a then terror stricken nation. But let’s face
    it, Bush was the one to first play that particular card and for the moment
    people associate it mainly with him and Republicans. That may change if Obama
    doesn’t get off his duff about Gitmo and the recent NSA revelations.

    Religious liberals.

    The only nod to religion was the nun who was doing what the people of
    Elysium refused to do – take care of orphaned children. For decades Republicans
    have successfully seized the cross, wrapped themselves up in the alter cloth
    and proclaimed themselves the keeper of all things moral and true and good.
    That is changing.

    PS – I really like your polite style of answering critics. I say that sincerely; there
    is way too much verbal abuse on the Internet.

    PS again — interesting example about Bush in your second post. Unfortunately — for you and Republicans — that is not what he is known for, or remembered for. Bush’s personal ratings have improved since he left office (how could they not) but he is remembered for the Iraq war, starting the erosion of our personal freedoms and numerous other sins.

  • Victor

    As a Canadian who knows very little about American politic, I’ve always liked “The Bushes” and truth be known, I also don’t even know what a true left and/or Canadian right is.

    Long story short, after having received The Body and Blood of Christ today at church, I’m getting the opportunity to see this movie “Elysium” for the first time tonight.

    Please don’t tell any body, “I” mean “anybody” but this holy her, “I” mean holier than-thou sinner has missed two Sunday Masses out of the last four and me, myself and i would like to thank our Blessed Mother Mary for having convinced HER SON that “I” should again be forgiven and…..

    END YA SAY sinner vic?

    PLEASE TRY TO READ BETWEEN THE LINES VICTOR!

    Go Figure! :)

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lrXZiYSj8u4
    Peace

  • nnmns

    It’s interesting how you find it wonderful that Bush and congress and the US did in one instance in Africa what you apparently think it’s wonderful that the wealthy WON’T do in the US: provide the needy with health care.

    You are a confused person.


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