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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Review: After Watching Matt Damon’s ‘Elysium,’ You’ll Want to Register as a Republican

Shhh….Don’t tell Matt Damon, but something went sideways and he made a conservative manifesto in Elysium. 

It’s pretty much a warning about what will happen to Earth if socialism wins.

Elysium takes place in the near future, after the entire earth suffers under the kind of economic meltdown threatening some of our great cities now. It’s dusty. It’s dirty. It’s unkept. No one has families or cars decent homes or fresh clothes or, apparently, showers. Jobs are dreary and dangerous and unsatisfying, if you can find them at all.

Future Los Angeles. Behold the power of socialism!

Basically, it’s Detroit.

Total economic meltdown. Here is a partial list of places where this sort of systematic economic failure has happened or looms:  Detroit.  California. Illinois. The Soviet Union. Cuba. Greece. Spain.

Not, say, Texas or Virginia.

In this fantasy dystopian future,  as in socialist Greece, Spain, and Detroit, the wealthy do fine.

The ultimate white flight has taken place to a distant low-orbit suburb. Those with the means to do so have moved on up to a deluxe space-age apartment in the sky.

Elysium. The Promised Land.

Wouldn’t you? If you could? After all, Elysium has trees, lakes, clean air, and effective hair care products.

I hear even Matt Damon doesn’t live in Compton.

So I’m assuming it was socialist policies that brought the earth to its dystopian future. The elite have done their damage and left. Fair, based on the historical evidence, right?

But wait..there’s more. The rich people of Elysium have something more: Magic.

It’s presented as science, but it’s really magic. They have medical beds which will fix any ailment.  Leukemia? No problem.  A face torn off by a grenade? Please. A persistent pimple? Step on up.

The sufferer lays down on a sort of futuristic tanning bed, and — abracadabra — it’s all fixed by a wave of the machine’s pseudo scientific wand. For free!

Naturally, Elysium-ites would kill rather than share these magic machines with the stinky riff-raff below them.

Because they’re mean.

Matt Damon is Max, an orphan of Earth whose poverty has not ruined his good looks. The Man, in the form of police droids, keeps keepin’ him down, but Max keeps on keepin’ on.

That is, until an industrial accident in his heartless factory sentences him to a nasty death. Dismissed without so much as a thank you, he hatches a plan to break into orbit and heal himself.

As you can imagine, his plan meets resistance by those who would rather lose a highly trained and reliable worker than give him a ride on the costless healing machine.

Because they’re mean.

And have no concept of economics.

This resistance leads to several gruesome battles to the death, lots of staggering about half-dead dripping blood, and an icky medical procedure that is not AMA approved. All this violence earns the film an R rating. It’s studded with profanity but devoid of sexuality. Apparently their lives are too dreary, desperate, and poverty-stricken to enjoy the pleasures of sex.

It features that strobe-light, screechy-sound, gritty, gory, intense violence that some love. If you like that style (I usually don’t), it’s well done. My husband loved it.

Let’s just say gun control is not an issue in this particular liberal world.

Damon, always a fine actor, does a decent job as wounded anti-hero Max but Jodie Foster is wasted as a one-dimensional power-hungry security honcho. In fact, this film suffers from a black and white one-dimensionality that leaves all the characters flat and unrelatable.

Director Neil Blomkamp, who also wrote the script, hails originally from South Africa. His fantastic 2009 film District 9 and Elysium are very much him working through issues related to South African oppression and apartheid. People trying to fit his movies into an American frame of reference will find it doesn’t exactly fit.

But as it’s the only frame of reference we have, we will try.

Here goes: The movie is subversively conservative.

You see, the teeming masses of Earth are desperate for one thing: to physically get to Elysium. They cannot think of any way to solve their problems other than physically inhabiting the glorious mansions with their magic medical tanning booths.

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. She seems to be doing fine.

The rest of the populace sits around planning minor heists and gambling in the  streets. They are victims, and only victims, never taking a step toward their own futures.

They stare at the great habitat in the sky in helpless longing. It is all they are capable of.

Once again, liberals secretly despise the people for whom they say they are fighting. Those people could never build a society worth living in. Those people can only be rescued through redistributing other people’s stuff. Those people are incapable of helping themselves.

And when they do – SPOILER – finally overrun Elysium, the watcher squirms, knowing that Elysium, which is roughly the size of New York City, cannot possibly contain all of the huddled masses of the entire earth. Its wealth will be distributed and then will be gone like a whiff of air.

Nobody wins.

Memo to Matt Damon, et al: The only way to lasting prosperity is to create production, not to take something. Because once you take what you take, it is gone and there is nothing to replace it.

It’s enough to make one run out and change voter registration. Or start a small business.

Thanks, Matt Damon, for the morality play showing us EXACTLY what we don’t want.

Update: Here’s how the movie actually pays tribute to George W. Bush. For realsies. 

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Matt Damon wants to kiss George Bush

Matt Damon, known for his liberal politics, gave credit where credit was due to former President George W. Bush.

And he said he’d do it with more than just thanks.

“I would kiss George W. Bush on the mouth for what he did on PEPFAR,” he told The Atlantic in an extensive interview about his charity work.

“You know, PEPFAR is an incredible thing just in terms of how many lives it saved,” Damon continued,”These ARVs have a Lazarus effect on people. You see a picture of them before and then you see them vibrant, alive, working. Their whole family has been dragged down by the illness and now this. I went on a trip in 2006 (to Africa) and I just had a sense of national pride going around, talking to these people, and they were so happy, they would say, ‘America,’ and I was saying, ‘Yeah, our president did that, and it’s terrific.’ It’s such an obvious connected thing. People aren’t going to hate you when you’re saving their lives.”

PEPFAR (The President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief), which Bush advocated and signed into law, has provided AIDS treatment for almost 4 million people. With pregnancy testing and treatment, it has prevented infection in 200,000 newborns. It also fights Tuberculosis and Malaria, things that don’t even enter our consciousness in the first world. It is an incredible program with phenomenal success.

Patheos’s and SixSeeds’s own Tom Walsh travels frequently to Africa on behalf of PEPFAR and blogs at C’est What?

Damon, who works extensively with, providing water to the world’s poor, cares enough about the world’s poor to educate himself and to cross party lines when credit is due.

Big round of applause, Matt!

A Lovely Family Story in ‘We Bought a Zoo’

“We Bought a Zoo” is an excellent family film about a wounded family finding a way to move on in life.

It is not a family film in the sense of “Hey, kids, let’s go watch some fairy tale characters make wisecracks or an animated (fill in the animal) fight, so you can laugh and mom and dad can have a little peace!” That has its place, but “We Bought a Zoo” is not that film.

There are no talking animals. No pratfalls, although there are funny  moments. No jokes about poop.

Instead, it is a beautiful and well-rendered movie for families about families. Everyone in the family will find something to enjoy in this gem and everyone in the family will be moved and, hopefully, enlarged.

Matt Damon stars as Benjamin, a father still hopelessly in love with his recently deceased wife. The unalterable fact of her death has not changed his love for her or his need for her. His children, seven year old Rosie (Maggie Elizabeth Jones) and Dylan (Colin Ford) need her as well. Her absence is the biggest presence in the home.

So Benjamin moves and finds adventure. He buys a home that has a small zoo attached and comes complete with an eccentric crew of animal caregivers. Kelly Foster (an earthy and earnest Scarlett Johansson) leads the gang and her niece (Elle Fanning) works in the snack bar. While Benjamin worries about his children, Kelly worries about the upcoming visit by Inspector Ferris (the hilarious John Michael Higgins), which will determine if the zoo can reopen or must close forever.

Benjamin, Rosie, and Dylan set off to mend fences, raise peacocks, enlarge exhibits, and habituate snakes, but what they’re really doing is trying to move on. Maybe they can believe in something and share something besides the gaping hole in their lives.

Lions, tigers, and bears, plus a few monkeys and porcupines fill their days. The human inhabitants are only slightly less weird, especially the habitat designer who has a primal, murderous dislike for Inspector Ferris.

Without being cute or sentimental, the film has some fine moments of loss and reconnection that will bring a tear to your eye. Director Cameron Crowe (Jerry MaGuire, Almost Famous) brings a deft touch to what could be overdone. Damon is fantastic as a dad completely, totally in over his head but also completely, totally committed. Maggie Jones is adorable while Colin Ford gives a complex performance as a boy who not only has to deal with his mother’s death, but adolescence and moving to boot. Johansson ramps down her usual sexiness, although she can never be truly unattractive, and gives us a character more comfortable with animals than humans.

Rated PG, the film has no sexuality. However, the themes of loss and death, both animal and human, may be disturbing to some children. The outcome is ultimately hopeful. Also, there is occasional language.

This film has sadness, to be sure, but in the end we feel good. It is not only a movie that is okay for families to watch, completely unobjectionable, but it is a movie that will bring families a little closer and make them a little stronger.

And that’s one of the hallmarks of the holidays.

Review: Happy Feet Two

Grade: B-

Bottom Line: This movie is all about the music. If you approach it like a rock opera and don’t expect a coherent story, it’s enjoyable. Think “Mama Mia” or Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” but with, you know, penguins.

Who Should See It: Fine for kids of all ages and their parents.

Rating: PG for some mild peril which may be too much for the smallest sensitive kids. No inappropriate sexual content or language.

Full review after the jump.

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