I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: Looper is a great science fiction film because it uses time travel as a prop rather than making it the main subject. The time travel plot is merely the catalyst that forces Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s Young Joe to reexamine his selfish, decadent lifestyle and strive to become a better person.
Neill Blomkamp's Elysium works for the exact same reason. I think some viewers perceive the film’s setting–the poor masses huddled on an overcrowded cesspool of an Earth while the one-percenters live in luxury on an orbiting space station–as too obviously allegorical, but it really is just a narrative framework for Matt Damon’s character’s emotional journey. Early on, when he is still another cog in the oppressive system, Max thinks only of self-preservation, and he makes some morally questionable choices in pursuing that goal. Gradually, however, he discovers something worth fighting for, even if it means sacrificing his own dreams and ambitions. This isn’t mere social commentary; it represents nothing less than the triumph of the human spirit. Because ultimately, like Looper–indeed, like all great sic-fi–Elysium isn’t about the future; it’s about people.
[Originally written August 10, 2013.]