I went to see the new film, District 9, yesterday. Let's not be in any doubt that it should feature strongly at the Oscar ceremonies. Let's also be well assured that it probably won't do well at all. It should be nominated for a number of awards - best film, direction, actor, photography, screenplay, special whizz-bang effect, sound amongst others - because it works superbly on all levels, and is a movie that's still porobing and prodding my hind-brain 24 hours after saeeing it.
It won't do well, because the lead actor, Sharlto Copley, is palpably South African (and therefore unintelligible to Americans - will they do sub-titles?) and because it deals harshly with a huge problem the world doesn't want to think about any more.
It will undoubtedly be put into the Science Fiction section of your local video store when it's done its theatre thing. This will also be a mistake. While it does feature aliens and a f*cking huge spaceship, it's as much Science Fiction as Orwell's "1984" or "Animal Farm" were Science Fiction.
"District 9" looks at separatism, apartheid, race-hate, segregation, civil rights, call it what you will, and for the first half of the movie I was horrified to find myself almost sympathising with the neo-nazi hero worker-bee as he strove to clear District 9 of life.
The movie's premise is simple: two decades ago, a vast spaceship came to Earth, and parks itself over Johaneesburg. For 20 years, it's hovered there, unmoving. When it arrived, it was filled with a large number of insect-descended aliens, who were ill. They were brought down to the surface, and given a home in District 9 - a slum. At the present time, there are over a million aliens - called Prawns - living a slovenly life in the District 9 slum cum shantytown. A privately owned arm of the Government plans to shift them all 200 kilometres away to District 10, in the heart of the desert: out of sight,out of mind. Our hero is given the task of overseeing the shift. A number of tactics we will recall from historical footage of Nazi Germany, pre-Mandela South Africa, and current day Israel / Palestine will spring to mind.
The movie is initially presented as a documentary: live action shots of Wilkus van der Merwe (astonishly well played by Sharlto Copley in his second first movie role. The first role, five or six years ago, was basically as an extra. This is extraordinary. ) backed by heavily armed henchmen, tricking the hive-mentality Prawns into signing their eviction orders to be taken to their new paradise home, in the heart of a desert. Shades of Soweto, of course. Let's be clear here: the majority of Prawns aren't all that bright. They are sentient, but let's face it: they're way out of their comfort zone. They are refugees, in every sense of the word. Shades of Palestine. They're taken away to their new homes, crammed into the backs of trucks - the movie channels Nazi Germany. There is a bright Prawn, who has an even brighter child. Cute factor. He wants to takes his people home, and has laboured for 20 years to do so. There's a multi-national company that wants the secrets to the Prawn's technology and weaponry - tech that will work only when operated by a Prawn: DNA sensitive. Wheels within wheels, plots within plots, acted and filmed with brio, with drive, with panache, and with rare sympathy to all concerned. Well, there's one character who is an utter bastard, and we know it from minute one.
I won't go any further into the plot: to say too much more would be to spoil the whole.
This is a social drama movie heavily disguised as a Sfi Fi movie heavily disgiused as a small dumb action flick. If you don't see it, you may well miss the best movie of the year. Just don't hold your breath waiting for it to win anything at the Oscars. I hope I'm wrong on that prediction, and I fear I won't be.
READING: Bloody Morrie and those bloody Tuesdays. I'll do a vinegary rant about it soon.
LISTENING TO: Jethro Tull, "Roots to Branches". The song "At last, Forever" is one of the finest love songs I know.
WORD OF THE DAY: MAKATU. Religious / spiritual superstition that allows one to kill an intellectually disabled person and get away with it. I actually thought we were a civilised people here in our little corner of the world. It turns out that we're just a bunch of ignorant, superstitous morons.
HENRY'S LIFE CONTINUES......
The Wisdom of the Woodpile.
Henry has three axes. One has a fine stainless steel head that weighs in at just over two kilograms, and he keeps the edge razor sharp. The handle is hickory, and shows a little damage up at the head where Henry’s misjudged the occasional stroke and overshot the piece of wood he’s cutting. His second is a splitting axe: a small, genetically engineered sledgehammer on which one side narrows into a blade. It’s a heavy, brutal tool that Henry enjoys wielding. The third is a short-handled tomahawk that Henry uses to cut kindling.
Every November Henry has forty three-metre larch logs delivered: there’s an alley that gives trucks access to the Talbot Terrace backyards, and Jake Rimmer, Northridge’s number one firewood guy, knows the alley well. The logs are delivered with precision, money changes hands along with an annual chat about the cost of Christmas and how the ratbag ref completely ballsed up the last All Blacks game. Then Henry rolls his sleeves up, and gets to work.
Each log is manhandled to lean against the back fence, where it will stay for at least a year, drying and curing. In March and April, the year-long dance continues: Henry gets out his cross-frame and bow-saw, and lifts each log, in turn, onto the frame where he handsaws it into 30 centimetre lengths. His neighbours watch him as they guiltily fire up their chainsaws to do a similar chore in their backyards. Smug bastard. Just who the hell does he think he is, anyway, with his precious handsaw. Probably votes for the Greenies. The minuet of the woodpile then takes its third step: the rounds are stacked for another year’s seasoning, and last year’s sawn pieces are taken out for splitting for the coming winter’s fires. And it’s this part that Henry really relishes.
Mary Talbot has painted this scene a number of times, and is yet to be satisfied with her efforts. She sees Henry as a heroic figure, handling the heavy splitting axe like a toothpick, attacking and vanquishing his wood-pile foe. That, of course, is where she’s got it wrong. If Henry were to paint or describe the scene, the first word he would say would be “thought”.
For it’s while he’s splitting the wood into chunks suitable for the fire that he does much of his creative thinking.
Whoa! Creative thought? Our Henry?
Well, yes. When Henry’s troubled, he’ll wander off to the woodshed, and pick up his axe, sharpen it, then cut through a few slabs of fire wood. When Miriam died he cut three winter’s worth of wood, taking his fury and grief out on the chopping block. Mary stood at the kitchen window and watched as Henry balanced two chunks of wood onto his heavy chopping block, then slapped his splitting axe down, slap-crunching through the first piece and cracking the second wide open.
Crash! She’s dead!
Crash! It’s not fair!
Crash! Why her?
Had she been there in earlier years Mary would have seen him as he rehearsed how he would propose to her. She doesn’t know it, but she’s watched him as he’s sorted out how to talk with Adam about sex and drugs and motorbikes and young love and mathematics and music and art and for heaven’s sake keep your room tidy, young man!
Crash! The axe bites deep and the mind freewheels.
Crash! Freewheels onto a poem read the previous evening.
Crash! And what was the poet saying? What images came to mind?
Crash! Actually, the poem was a load of cobblers.
Crash! The Rover needs a tune-up. Better buy the plugs.
Crash! That’s it! That’s how to get the marae’s books sorted!
With the passing of each season the woodpile at 22 Talbot Terrace ebbs and flows, shrinks and grows, and each stroke of the saw, each heave of a log, every drop of sweat that falls, every axe-strike, every delicate little blow with the kindling axe has helped Henry find a solution to whatever it has been that’s worried him, or that’s been gnawing at his mind. Which is why it was so puzzling that Henry left his axes to hang, rusting, on their nails on the woodshed wall while he fled to foreign shores to confront the greatest problem of all.