The Themes of Hope and Despair in District 9


I finally saw District 9. An alien ship hovers, inoperable, above South Africa. After 28 years of conflict the ship’s inhabitants and their descendants have been rounded up and placed behind fences in slum-like conditions, where violence and crime are rampant. Over time the aliens became desperate, hopeless and violent.  The situation serves as an allegory for South Africa’s period of apartheid. But it also raises bigger questions. Wikus, a white South African government official, is sent into the settlement to inform the inhabitants that they are being moved. Unlike many of his co-workers he avoids hurting the aliens unnecessarily. He does not really see them as intelligent beings until he begins to stand in their shoes. In a search of a home he is exposed to an alien technology that causes him to begin to transform into an alien. One of the aliens, Christopher, had developed the device that injured Wikus. It was designed to activate the ship so that he could leave Earth. As Wikus begins to transform he becomes a hunted man, so he and Christopher enter into a mutually beneficial relationship. Wikus is motivated to work with Christopher in order to benefit himself. Christopher feels responsible for Wikus’ injury and also recognizes that Wikus has knowledge that might contribute to achieving his goal. Ironically, Christopher is the most human character in this movie. Along the way Wikus develops respect for Christopher’s intellect and for his character. It is Christopher who inspires Wikus to move beyond his very provincial box. Something about their unlikely alliance made this feel like a really dark buddy movie. I walked away from this movie pondering a couple of questions. Why did these two characters not succumb to the violence and selfishness around them? Both were intelligent. Smart people often find non-violent methods for solving problems simply because they are creative enough to come up with one. Both Wikus and Christopher were willing to use violence when there was no alternative but it didn’t seem to be in their natures to do so. The alien, Christopher, is intent on protecting his son and finding a way to get him back home. Wikus never stops thinking of his wife. He is intent on finding a way to restore his body and return to her. The first chapter of Proverbs describes fools who “rush to commit evil deeds and hurry to commit murder” as those who “set an ambush for themselves”, while describing learning as something that which will “crown you with grace and be a chain of honor around your neck.” Christopher wears this grace and honor and Wikus really wants to. Hopelessness and despair, along with greed, plays a large part in the violence, drug abuse, and other behavior the aliens and criminals in the slums display. Christopher and Wikus hold out hope that their circumstances can change, and that sets them apart from others in the slum. They both need to believe that change is possible. Christopher, who knows the capabilities of the ship and the resources of his culture, is more sure than Wikus that the hope is real. Wikus, having weighed his options for help, has settled on Christopher as the most reliable and trustworthy source. So in effect, Wikus, who has no frame of reference for the hope Christopher places in his culture’s ability to restore Wikus, places his faith in Christopher based on Christopher’s character and intellect. This relationship raised yet another question. What sort of hope do I put in Jesus, as His follower, based on his character and intellect? There is much unexplained, much for which we have no empirical evidence, much that is unseen, and even things that happen that seem counterintuitive to both God’s purpose and his mission. I can not explain this stuff. Hebrews says that “faith is the confidence we have that what we hope for will actually happen, it gives us assurance about what we cannot see.” Despair sucks out all the hope. Faith and hope create an environment where change can happen and missions can be fulfilled.

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