12 Big Questions Left Unanswered by ‘Elysium’

By  · Published on August 10th, 2013


Not everyone can have Isaac Asimov collaborate on their film’s screenplay, but if you’re going to go for an original work of science fiction it has to be solid. Otherwise, there are plenty of smartly written novels out there to be adapted. There’s something very appealing about not having any source material, though, at least in theory. And at least if you’ve previously shown a knack for being a fresh visionary, like Neill Blomkamp has.

Yet Blomkamp’s strong suit is in his visuals, particularly his juxtapositions of effects-driven alien and tech stuff over Third World backdrops. Also, weapons that make people graphically explode into pieces. Maybe that all will get old eventually, but it doesn’t in Elysium. What does get old fast is the suspension of disbelief we try to hold onto during the movie’s many convoluted plot points and its overcooked political themes.

As Rob wrote in his review, there’s some good world-building in the look of the film, but sadly the script tears it all down by failing to properly explain how and why that world works exactly. And the movie as a whole leaves us with other big questions we just can’t shake or fill in ourselves. Find these below and add any you’re asking in the comments.


1. Why does it feel like the film’s world is only comprised of Los Angeles and Elysium?

I know, this is a story that takes place in L.A. and the space station. That’s not what I mean. Why is L.A. seemingly so central to the world? The worst thing visually with Blomkamp’s world building is it’s very narrow-looking. It’s just too simplistic to have our main characters be as significant as they are, most notably the military industrial corporation exec and the crime lord, all in such a small area. I’d love to know where the Chinese are in this future, to name only one other nationality. It’s pretty basic to just show us Third World peoples who speak Spanish and First (Off)World people who speak French and have that be all. I figure that there’d be a whole lot more of both sanctioned and unsanctioned spacecrafts traveling to Elysium from all over the globe given how often they appear to leave just from this one city.

2. How does Elysium have an atmosphere?

The space station looks pretty cool as open as it is, but what’s holding it all in? The gravity likely works because of the way Elysium is in constant spinning motion, but would that keep the air in? It was a shock when it turned out there wasn’t some sort of glass roof to the outside parts of the station, but then it was even more surprising how easily Spider and Kruger’s ships entered the airspace without any sort of barrier whatsoever.

3. Why continue sending people to Elysium if they’ll either be shot down in their travels or just be deported?

Well, I guess we could ask the same thing about why immigrants keep trying to get into America. But this case involves building spaceships (which must be pricey because they’re spaceships and not everyone is just building their own). Sure, some of the people are just hoping for the chance to get to one of those lifesaving miracle medical machines, but a lot of people seem naively just expecting to live on Elysium.

4. What is the class system hierarchy on Elysium?

Everyone on Elysium is supposedly rich, but not everyone is wealthy enough to have one of those giant mansions we keep seeing and to just hang out in their pools or at lawn parties all day. There are definitely a lot of workers there, such as Delacourt’s employees. They seem more upper middle class than wealthy elite, if even that. Do they just live in an apartment somewhere and barely make enough to be a citizen of this utopia? If they get fired, are there many other job prospects? Will they have to go to Earth?

5. Why does Kruger even work for Delacourt?

Kruger’s lifestyle doesn’t seem to be too much better than most on Earth. Maybe he has some better food to grill and cool weapons and means of travel, but otherwise his task seems major enough that he’d want to be paid pretty well and therefore would probably live much better, even if not on Elysium (I assume he thinks that place is too hoity-toity and lame). But he could probably just as easily – maybe even more easily given how much more badass he is – have a huge crime syndicate like Spider’s. Only better.

6. And why does she need him to?

Meanwhile, it seems odd that Elysium would require the services of Kruger. Yes, his work is illegal, but his work also appears to be the only real defense system the space station has against enemies. Sure, most of the time the intruders are just immigrants and can be easily rounded up and sent back. What if they’re terrorists? What is Delacourt supposed to use to protect that very vulnerable utopia with easily flown-into airspace? When Kruger starts going crazy with his sudden coup on Elysium, as well as when Spider arrives with his own revolutionary plans, shouldn’t there be an army of robots at the ready to take them down if not already some external defense system keeping them out in the first place?

7. What’s the purpose of radiation in the manufacture of the robot cops?

Seriously, maybe some of you are smarter about the science involved that would cause Max to be lethally irradiated in the factory chamber. Until I hear otherwise, it just seems like a barely thought-through plot device.

8. Why does so much in the year 2154 look like it does in 2013?

Obviously there are some futuristic elements of the film that make sense for a setting that’s 141 years down the road, namely the giant space station housing all the rich people and the very quick and easy space travel vehicles that get us there and back. Also, a few of the weapons as well as the robot police officers. But everything else looks like it does now, including the clothing and much of what we see in and around people’s homes. Of course there’s probably some intentional mixing of now and then to drive it home that we’re watching a movie just as much about now as about then. I also thought maybe some of the antique-ness of Earth is similar to what happened with Cuba after the Revolution, but that doesn’t really make sense. I know the people in the L.A. favelas are poor, but today’s Third World citizens aren’t living like it’s 1872. Well, not in the same way.

9. How does Kruger see the file that Max is downloading via a hardwire from Carlyle’s head?

Key word here is hardwire. It’s not transmitted via wifi, so how can Kruger see the contents as they’re being transmitted on his own computers?

10. What is the point of having the kill option on Carlyle’s file if it doesn’t really protect the file from being stolen?

Max is able to steal the file from Carlyle’s head, but if he uploads it anywhere he dies (another option would be to paralyze him). That’s some nice means of punishment, but it sure doesn’t help secure the file, which can still be stolen and can still be used for the thief’s purposes anyway. It would make more sense for the file to have a way of killing Max when he attempts to steal it. But… plot device. Still, what ever happened to good old-fashioned portable hard drives? As I already pointed out, they’ve still got all the other 2013 tech.


11. How does the healing machine know to give Kruger a full beard?

One of the most amazing moments in the movie is when we learn that Kruger, in spite of having his face blown off, is not actually dead (apparently the blood loss that would come with that wasn’t as much as you think). Not only that, but his face can be entirely reconstructed with the healing medical machines found in any Elysium home. The funny thing is that once it’s finished, Kruger looks pretty much the same way he did before, which means fully bearded. Why would a reconstruction of DNA material give him any beard let alone one of the same exact trim? Is it tapped into some part of the brain that’s like a regularly updated backup file?

12. Now that there’s free healing machine access to all, will everyone on Earth live forever, too?

There’s something to be said for disease, organ failure and mortality in general: population control. The happy ending of the movie is that now everyone is a citizen of Elysium – good luck trying to fit them all on that station – and therefore has access to not only free healthcare but the miracle machines that apparently maintain you live forever. So now Earth will just grow more and more overpopulated faster, the resources and space will be depleted faster and eventually everyone will probably just starve to death. I don’t think the machines cure hunger. Maybe they can start eating each other’s faces and limbs, which can then just be regrown?

Thanks to Rob Hunter for collaborating on some of these questions.

Once again, please add to this list below if you have any further questions about Elysium. We’re pretty sure there’s at least another 12 that could be mentioned.

Christopher Campbell began writing film criticism and covering film festivals for a zine called Read, back when a zine could actually get you Sundance press credentials. He's now a Senior Editor at FSR and the founding editor of our sister site Nonfics. He also regularly contributes to Fandango and Rotten Tomatoes and is the President of the Critics Choice Association's Documentary Branch.