Elysium Tries To Look Like Tomorrow But Misses The Metaphor

by Liam Scheff

Blockhead Robot

Elysium, the Dark Knight Rises, World War Z, Star Trek: Into Darkness, and every upcoming sci-fi action-adventure apocalypse film are all trying to tell us something: our way of life is threatened – and may be ending. And I tend to agree with that message. But they all miss the central metaphor.

In “Elysium,” (from the director of “District 9,” another post-apocalyptic action film – this one about Apartheid), Matt Damon plays a factory worker in a world populated by robots, dust, trash and extreme poverty. The State has infiltrated every area of life; police are cyborgs, law is interpreted by machines, and life is entirely futile on the surface of the planet.

Up in the heavens, a veritable pleasure resort called “Elysium” spins like a glass doughnut filled with the beautiful people, who have perfect lives, abundant food and cures for all diseases.

And cyborg robot space battle ensues. Hooray for humanity.

But something is missing from this picture, as it is in all current films about the end of things – and it is that thing without which the premise falls flat. That thing is energy. Yes – the source of energy that makes it possible to run a robot. To build one. To fabricate anything industrial. To have a floating city in space.

That thing that we use for energy is? Oil. We use oil by the barrel, and each barrel is worth about 7 years of human labor per barrel. A barrel of oil thus acts as a reservoir of “energy slaves” which we use to make our world work. We currently use approximately 90 million barrels per day. We have over 600 million slaves in the world that we do not see, do not feed and do not pay, all in the guise of oil energy and products.

And we are heading over the peak of production into decline. Which means that the future, though it may be poor by today’s standards, will not be fueled by jet power, filled with cyborgs or occupied by robot armies. There will just be us – humanity – those of us who can remember or re-learn how to survive when the power source wanes and does not come back.

That’s our science fiction future: our human past, our inheritance is what awaits us – and if we prepare for it now, we may be spared some of the ‘apocalypses’ now playing in our imaginations when we go to the movies.



  1. Hi Liam. I am not into all these dark movies like Dark Knight or war pictures but that’ all they make anymore. But this looks kind of interesting…I think it is more of a prophecy that we’ll be the ones living the slave life and the 1% will be in their little protected bubble of privilege. It’s not so far off the mark, think about it, instead of having human police and bosses, they have robots …even though you need energy to run a robot, wouldn’t it require more energy to have a human overlord….paying them a salary, they would eat food, they would need cars to get to their jobs….way way way less energy to have a robot …no salary needs to be paid, they don’t need to consume gas in their cars, they don’t need to consume meat from a factory that uses tons of water and grain …bla bla. bla.. which makes me think that if the upper 1% think that way well of course they would want to depopulate us…I’m really developing a theory right now….

    • Nothing since the days of Babylon and Egypt have really changes all that much. We still operate on a top down PYRAMID COMMAND CONTROL STRUCTURE…a form of neo-technological FEUDALISM,,,,the richest 300 people on Earth have more money/wealth than the poorest 3 BILLION people! It’s the MEMES that are similar in Distrct 9, Hunger Games, DREDD, Elysium…the masses (that’s you!) living in squalor and shantytowns, ruled by autonomous A.I. drone bots, while the top 0.0000001% are at the top of the Pyramid, everyone surveilled by the All Seeing Eye of Sauron! (Total Information Awareness).

  2. I don’t want to be dark, but, unfortunately, that’s where I think we’re collectively headed.

    “Our” “way of life” is simply unsustainable.

  3. “the richest 300 people on Earth have more money/wealth than the poorest 3 BILLION people!”

    I don’t want to appear to be dense, but is the above actually true? If so, it’s news to me, and changes my views/perspectives on many things.

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