District 9 is a 2009 South African science fiction thriller film directed by Neill Blomkamp. It was written by Blomkamp and Terri Tatchell, and produced by Peter Jackson and Carolynne Cunningham. The film stars Sharlto Copley, Jason Cope, and David James. The film won the 2010 Saturn Award for Best International Film presented by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films, and was nominated for four Academy Awards in 2010, including Best Picture, Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Visual Effects, and Best Editing.
The story, adapted from Alive in Joburg, a 2005 short film directed by Blomkamp and produced by Sharlto Copley and Simon Hansen, pivots on the themes of xenophobia and social segregation. The title and premise of District 9 were inspired by events that took place in District Six, Cape Town during the apartheid era. The film was produced for $30 million and shot on location in Chiawelo, Soweto, presenting fictional interviews, news footage, and video from surveillance cameras in a part-mock documentary style format. A viral marketing campaign began in 2008, at the San Diego Comic-Con, while the theatrical trailer appeared in July 2009. Released by TriStar Pictures, the film opened to critical acclaim on August 14, 2009, in North America and earned $37 million in its opening weekend. Many saw the film as a sleeper hit for its relatively unknown cast and modest-budget production, while achieving success and popularity during its theatrical run.
In March 1982, a large alien spacecraft arrives on Earth and stops directly above the city of Johannesburg in South Africa. After three months of no contact and no signs of activity, a team enters the ship, discovering a large group of sick and malnourished extraterrestrials, who are then given food, shelter, and health-care on Earth. The aliens, derogatorily referred to by some locals as “prawn”, are confined to District 9, a government camp inside Johannesburg. Following their settlement, periodic unrest occurs between aliens and locals.
Subsequently, the South African government hires Multinational United (MNU), a private military company under the direction of its CEO, Dirk Michaels (William Allen Young), to relocate the aliens to the new District 10. In August 2010, Wikus van de Merwe (Sharlto Copley), an Afrikaner bureaucrat, is appointed by Piet Smit (Dirk Minnaar), an MNU executive and his father-in-law, to lead the relocation with the serving of illegal eviction notices.
Meanwhile, three aliens (Christopher Johnson (Jason Cope), his son, and a friend), search for alien technology from which they distill a mysterious fluid, storing it in a small canister. Later, while raiding the shack of Christopher’s friend, Wikus discovers and seizes the container, which sprays an unidentified substance onto his face. Christopher’s friend is subsequently killed by Koobus Venter (David James), a xenophobic soldier leading the operation.
The mysterious fluid makes Wikus ill and begins to turn his DNA and body into those of a “prawn”. MNU finds out and they force Wikus to test various alien weapons which only function when used by an alien; he succeeds at using them. The MNU scientists then decide to vivisect Wikus’ organs because they are deemed to be worth billions for biotech research, but he overpowers his captors and escapes. Smit lies to the press, saying that Wikus is infected with an alien STD and is highly contagious. He also sends Venter and his men to capture him.
Wikus finds refuge in District 9 and stumbles upon Christopher Johnson’s shack; after the lost command module is revealed under his shack, Christopher discloses that the “fuel” in the canister would allow him to reactivate the dormant mothership and reverse Wikus’ mutation. Retrieving the canister seems hopeless since it is held at MNU headquarters, but Wikus and Christopher agree upon a plan to steal weapons from Nigerian arms-dealer Obesandjo and his gang.
Wikus and Christopher break into the MNU offices and successfully retrieve the canister; they flee back to District 9, with MNU forces in pursuit. Outraged by illegal experiments he saw at the MNU headquarters, Christopher tells Wikus that he will need all the “fuel” to seek help for the other aliens before curing him. Unfortunately, the trip to the alien planet and back will take three years. Enraged, Wikus attacks Christopher, then hijacks the command module. Soon after takeoff, the craft is shot down and crashes. Venter and his men arrest Wikus and Christopher, but Obesandjo’s gang ambushes the MNU convoy, disables the vehicles transporting Wikus and Christopher, and after an intense firefight, Wikus is taken to Obesandjo, who believes that by eating Wikus’ mutated alien hand he will gain the ability to use alien weaponry. Obesandjo’s base is then surrounded and besieged by MNU and a firefight ensues.
In the downed command module, Christopher’s son activates the mothership and an alien mechanized battle suit which, upon detecting a threat to Wikus, kills Obesandjo and his men before they can butcher Wikus. Wikus takes control of the battle suit and rescues Christopher, shielding him as they run to the command module and killing many MNU men firing upon them. Wikus then aids Christopher’s escape by staying behind and holding off the MNU troops in his ailing mechanized battle suit; Christopher promises to return in three years time before leaving Wikus for the command module. Wikus kills all the troops except Venter, who cripples his suit and forces it to eject him. He is cornered by Venter, who tells him he plans to execute him to prevent further repercussions. However, a group of aliens surround Venter and tear him to pieces before eating what remains. Christopher leaves in the mothership with his son as Johannesburg’s residents celebrate its departure.
A series of interviews and news broadcasts are shown, with people theorizing about Wikus’ whereabouts. MNU’s illegal experiments on the aliens have been uncovered and exposed by Fundiswa Mhlanga, Wikus’ former trainee, who is incarcerated and awaiting trial for doing so. District 9 is completely demolished, with all the aliens having been moved to the new larger District 10 240 km (150 mi) outside the city. Wikus’ wife, Tania (Vanessa Haywood), reveals the finding of a metal flower on her doorstep, which gives her hope that her husband is still alive. Interviews are given implying whether or not Christopher’s return will either mean reconciling Earth and the Prawn, or war declaration against humans. The film ends with a shot of what appears to be a fully transformed Wikus crafting a similar flower in a scrapyard.
Learn more about the concepts, principles and symbolism behind the subliminals found in this film: