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In the year 2154, according to a detail in this new science film from the creator of District 9, advances in medical science will lead to a device called a MedBay. Lie down in it and it will diagnose your illness or injury and repair it.

Sounds like a wonderful thing, doesn’t it? Sure would be useful—if you could afford it.

The MedBay is just one part of what makes life wonderful on Elysium, named after the ancient Greek concept of an afterlife for the deserving. It is a man-made habitat in the outer reaches of Earth’s atmosphere, far enough to be free of the toxic mess that is what remains of our planet. And as far as “deserving” to go there, that means being able to afford to buy a place.

Most people of course can’t, so they spend their lives eking out a living on our polluted, decrepit, severely overpopulated planet. These include Max (Matt Damon, tattooed and head shaven), raised in an orphanage. Having once been in trouble with the law, he has virtually no chance at a better life, even if he works hard and does everything he’s told.

But when a workplace accident subjects him to fatal dose of radiation, he accepts an illegal offer that will get him to Elysium and a chance to save himself.

Neill Blomkamp’s big-budget film is one in a long line of would-be summer blockbusters painting a dystopic future—After Earth, World War Z, Pacific Rim, This Is the End, The Purge—but it is by far the best. That there are so many films like this is evidence that we are a generation that does not believe we are heading for a good future. But Blomkamp’s is the only one to make those fears specific and concrete. The problems in his future are outgrowths of factors that exist in the world now, and he doesn’t pull his punches in depicting them. There’s plenty of special effects extravaganza to provide the “Wow!” factor that pulls in audiences; for a change, this one gives audiences something to think about as well.

Watch the trailer for Elysium

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