Blomkamp, Ballard and the Hidden Politics of Overpopulation

“Squeezed out of existence”: The binaries and boundaries of overpopulation in Neill Blomkamp’s Elysium and JG Ballard’s “Billennium”

By Lizzy Steenkamp

In environmentalist discourse, the question of overpopulation is a controversial one as it is often still perceived as a problem exclusive to developing countries that exists only due to a lack of education that leads to large families (Fletcher 1198). In literature, overpopulation has been interrogated in many imaginative ways, and the two instances that will be discussed here – Neill Blomkamp’s 2013 film Elysium and J.G. Ballard’s short story “Billennium” (1962) – are important contributions to the field because they actively work against this assumption that the blame for overpopulation lies in the actions of the poor. These texts accomplish this by shifting the focus to the ways in which the structures of authority fail the poor and deliberately force them into a worse and worse condition. The subject will here be approached through the dystopian lens of the everyday life in overpopulated society as facilitated by narrative and cinematic technique. In terms of this, the primary foci are the ways in which boundaries and dichotomies are influenced by the increase of population. The boundary between the private and the public will receive special emphasis, as well as the effect of this on human interaction as well as alienation from the self and the loss of agency. The roles that societal institutions of authority play as catalysts for these processes will also be taken into consideration.

The deadly competition for Earth’s resources and space due to an increase in population is an issue that has not always been accepted as a valid concern, and is still considered a myth in even the most educated of areas. In terms of recent history, overpopulation emerged as a prominent threat after World War II and the subsequent “baby boom”: the effects were discussed in terms of important problems such as “security, the environment, poverty, food production and economic development in the global South” (Fletcher 1198). Overpopulation first began to be conceived of as an imminent threat in the late 1950’s, which eventually resulted in such preventative resources such as the United Nations Fund For Population Activities in 1969 (1199). The link between environmental degradation and overpopulation was only overtly established in the public consciousness in the seventies, largely to the Paul and Anne Ehrlich’s book The Population Bomb (1968) that contained accurate warnings about “environmental collapse, human suffering and massive starvation”(1200). The environmentalism of the 1980s saw the popularisation of an old argument that placed a lot of the blame for the population problem on the poor, labelling this class as a threat to the international community.

An interesting aspect of both the texts Elysium and “Billennium” is that the focus is not on the poor as the responsible party in either of these narratives, but rather assigns the blame to the greed of the rich and the mechanisms they employ to attain and sustain their lifestyles. This logic reflects that of Karl Marx, who argues that capitalism will find whatever means necessary, such as forging a link between sex and wealth, to promote population growth because at foundation it cannot survive without a surplus labour force (1202). The more people there are, the stronger the competition becomes for work, which results in the reduction of wages (1202). This widens the gap between the rich and the poor on a continuing basis. Assigning the blame to the poor is thus both illogical and hypocritical, as those who benefit from capitalism also benefit from overpopulation. What is more, the poor do not benefit, but can never be persuaded into different sexual or family practices due to the weight of the capitalist agenda counteracting any attempts at reformation. This kind of logic is metaphorically represented in “Billennium” when the narrator states that the ultimate goal is to have three children so that one could qualify to live in one’s own room (Ballard 145).

In film, overpopulation has been addressed in a number of creative ways, sometimes with inventive solutions to the problem. An earlier – but by far not the earliest – example of science fiction’s treatment of the subject is Logan’s Run (1976), directed by Michael Anderson, in which the human lifetime has been artificially reduced to 30 years. The film was based on the book of the same title by William F. Nolan, which was published in 1967, and also emerged as a popular television series after the film’s success. The 1970s saw a very active cycle of ecocinema that lasted until 1985 (Kaapa & Gustafsson 157). Unfortunately, many of the films mentioned here are considered to be purely science fiction films due to the fact that overpopulation still occupies a volatile position on the periphery of environmentalist discourse. Other 1970s contributions to the topic of overpopulation are Richard Fleisher’s Soylent Green (1973) (based on Harry Harrisson’s 1967 book Make Room! Make Room!) which combines the genre with crime fiction, as well as Michael Campus’ Z.P.G (1972) and Douglas Trumbull’s Silent Running (1972). The 1980’s and 1990’s offered exciting dystopian films, but the focus on the overpopulation problem was more intermittent than before. Recently, the subgenre of overpopulation films has seen a revival in ecocinema’s fourth cycle, which lasted from 2002-2011 (157). An example is the very popular Cloud Atlas (2011), directed by the Wachowski brothers, which has a similar setting to Elysium and also combines its treatment of the environmental issue with musings on love, justice and equality. Andrew Niccol’s In Time (2011) interrogates the same solution to overpopulation as Logan’s Run, but approaches the question from a more classist position. Other films that deserve mention in this regard are Andrew Stanton’s animation Wall E (2008), and M Knight Shyamalan’s beautiful but dubitably written The Happening (2008). Whether Elysium can live up to the high standards of the films it stands in relation to is an important question to consider, but it is a recent entry into the genre that deserves notice. What is more, its treatment of the dissolution of the boundaries between classes, races, public and private spaces and legitimate and illegitimate authority makes it a useful comparative study to Ballard’s “Billennium”, which addresses the same issue of overpopulated space as porous space.

Elysium is set in the dual spaces of a dystopian Los Angeles and a torus space habitat called Elysium in the year 2154. A torus space habitat is a design based on the Stanford Torus that was created as a housing alternative in the 1975 NASA study at Stanford University (Johnson and Holbrow vii) . The motivation for the creation of this design was the rising concern about resource scarcity that developed in the 1960s, which, as discussed earlier, was a result of the population boom after World War II. Since its creation the Stanford Torus has gripped the imaginations of science fiction creators, and thus appears in many pop culture appropriations that include films, animations, television series, novels, short stories and video games. It is thus a well-known proposal as a solution to the problem of over-population, as one of these tori can hold up to 140 000 permanent residents. Elysium uses this relatively familiar paradigm in order to pose the question that few dare to ask: who stays and who goes? The protagonist Max (Matt Damon) aids a rebel group on Earth and travels to Elysium in a quest to counter the elitist distribution of Elysium’s resources in an effort to bring some relief to those suffering on Earth. It is clear from the opening sequence that Earth is far from a desirable place to be. Los Angeles is so polluted that the camera’s visual plain does not reach far into the city; near the top of the frame, vision fades into fog interspersed with clouds of smoke (Figure 1). The representations of Earth are desaturated and offer no colour to redeem the desolate atmosphere (Figure 1). The only visible elements in the frame are tightly packed buildings separated almost imperceptibly by equally dull streets (Figure 1). The composition is clearly constructed to present a Los Angeles that is an unending dystopian environment plagued with illness, poverty, crime and crowded space.

Figure 1 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 1 (Blomkamp 2013)

In Figure 2 the city is uncannily familiar, as it resembles the global cities of the current context but is presented as such a run-down, damaged and crowded space that it appears eerie and deserted. Of course, the opposite is the truth; it is overpopulated to such an extent that the city’s infrastructure simply cannot bear the weight of the people that make use of it. In this sense, a deserted city and an overpopulated city yield the same results, as both lead to the slow but certain disintegration of the man-made structures. This is a literal metaphor for the human condition in an overpopulated society; the sheer amount of people creates such alienation and loneliness that there might as well have been no people at all. What is clear from Figures 1 and 2 is that there are no class distinctions, as the city is presented as a single homogenous, sprawling mass. Even the once elite skyscrapers are grey, dirty, destroyed and taken over (Figure 2). This is one of the first indications that the distinctions that came with the luxury of space – such as rich and poor – have faded on Earth into concepts that are too abstract to be enforceable in the light of the power of the masses.

Figure 2 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 2 (Blomkamp 2013)

Elysium is represented visually as everything that Earth is not. Whereas Earth appears to contain only squalid houses and institutional buildings tightly packed next to each other, Elysium has water and plants that abound, and all its spaces are clearly separated from one another by buffer zones (Figure 3). This is in stark contrast to the condition on Earth, as it appears that there is no separation between any of the physical entities. These images are not new to the viewer as they resemble current class divides; the only difference is that in the current context on Earth they exist in a closer proximity to one another, which, when compared to the situation in Elysium, creates more possibilities for revolt. The sharing and intertwining of space on Earth in Elysium already hints at an involuntary collision between lives. Whereas Earth’s colouring is desaturated, and everything is only a different shade of dirty grey, Elysium is filled with vibrant bursts of colour (Figure 3). Not only is Elysium the more prosperous and pleasant location, but it is a nurturing space where life can biologically and psychologically be sustained; Earth’s dreary appearance in turn suggests that the only future that remains there is death. The only scenes in the film where this image of Earth is countered, is when it is viewed as a blue orb from a distance by Max, suggesting that it is not the planet itself that is the symbol of dysfunction, but the everyday practices that take place upon it from minute to minute. The difference between these utopian and dystopian spaces is also marked by a difference in camera techniques. Whereas Elysium is represented in smooth birds-eye tracking shots and careful continuous edits, the camerawork for the depiction of Earth has a deliberate documentary style to it that makes use of a shaky, at times unfocused camera, the blurring of the image due to some interference like fog or a heat wave, and lens flares.

Figure 3 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 3 (Blomkamp 2013)

It is ironic that the city chosen for the narrative references angels in its name, as the motif of the afterlife is repeated in the naming of Elysium after the Greco-Roman space in which immortal heroes conduct their afterlives.  The reference emphasizes the fact that this is the life after life as we knew it in our current timeframe; the population of Earth reaching full capacity caused the planet’s death, and the remaining humans exist in a condition of perpetual suffering. In this narrative the former city of angels has become the hell, and money is the ticket to salvation. Los Angeles has become a sprawling mass of people that are all classified as citizens of Earth, and it is this categorization that is their only important one. Every other possible difference between person and person dissolves in light of the way this fact reinterprets a person’s life completely. To be a citizen of Earth is to not be a citizen of Elysium. The system of stratified class relations that we are currently used to has collapsed and given way to strict binary between those who live in extreme luxury in a beautiful reproduction of Earth in its heyday, and those who struggle to get by in what is left of the dump that Earth has become. These polar opposites form the primary metaphor of boundary formation as a totalitarian operation that always has moral consequences, and the dissolution of this boundary is the primary objective that the action in the film is directed at. On Earth, overpopulation has caused the dissolution of almost all other boundaries, as it takes the luxury of resources to maintain these boundaries.  There are only two primary distinctions that remain instantiated on earth. The first is the binary between human and robot, whereas the second is the difference between criminal and obedient. The first distinction is an important one, as it is the other prominent boundary in the film that undergoes a process of dissolution. The distinction between humanity and its creations acts as a metaphor for the opposition of power and the powerless, and the way in which humankind can enslave itself with its own institutions and technologies.

On Elysium, the shiny robots are completely subservient to the privileged humans for the majority of the film, and exist only to serve them and reinforce their authority on Earth. In Blomkamp’s Los Angeles, however, the robots are ominous creatures that have taken the place of human authority; there are no citizens of Earth that hold positions of power as they have surrendered their agency to technology, the proxy of the will of the citizens of Elysium. The robots act as both representatives and facilitators of alienation in the film. For example, in Figure 4 the police robots are introduced with a scene where they harass the crowd. The machine looms in the deep focus background as an imminent threat to the population as represented by the line of commuters. These people are waiting to board public transport, as the only movement allowed to them besides walking is strictly automated and outside of their control. They are all from different races, classes, ages and genders, yet their shared poverty, disillusioned expressions and dull colouring make them appear as a completely homogenous group – they look just as grey and repetitive as the city in Figures 1 and 2. The robot approaches Max and reads him not as a living person, but as an embodiment of a criminal record. As a result of this objective, authoritarian approach, the robots harass him and break his arm when he tries to make a joke. Their justification for this reaction is chilling: “zero tolerance policy applies to all citizens” (Blomkamp 2013). From the nature of the transport system and the extent to and manner in which the law itself is reinforced, it is clear from this encounter that, in the face of masses of people that need to be controlled, individual freedom and agency has to be sacrificed to a far greater extent than in a society that has more space. In this crowded world, the slightest deviance is seen as a potential threat, as there is literally no room for error.

Figure 4 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 4 (Blomkamp 2013)

When Max goes to the hospital to have his arm tended to, he is coincidentally treated by his childhood love named Frey (Alice Braga), whose name in Norse mythology references fertility and peace. This is especially fitting as she is a driving factor behind Max’s burning need to reach Elysium and the promise of life. The hospital is desperately overcrowded and as dirty as the street, another clear sign that the burden of too many humans is too much for the infrastructure of society to bear. Max attempts to talk to Frey, but due to the clamour in the hospital and the pressing bodies all around them, the conversation is halted, interrupted and rushed. Frey’s attention is constantly drawn away from Max by other people in need, and when he asks her to go for coffee with him, she replies that her shift only ends on a different day. This scene demonstrates the effect that overpopulation has on the disintegration of human relationships. Max and Frey struggle to connect to each other because physically, emotionally and mentally there are just too many people in the way for them to be able to reach each other. The effect of overpopulation and crowded space is also that every action takes longer to complete due to the strain of navigating the current of human bodies, and Frey’s occupation as a nurse makes this reality even more applicable to her own situation. Due to the cramped nature of the hospital, she has to sacrifice her time in order to try and keep the space as clear as possible.

The third institution of authority that is represented as dysfunctional due to the paralyzing masses is the parole office. The same chaotic crowds populate the building, and impatience and general distress reign here as well.  Max’s parole officer is a horrific robotic simulacrum of a human being that has been marked with graffiti and appears to have taken some physical abuse (Figure 5). The fact that they chose to manufacture this robot to look like a human seems to be a cruel, empty joke that hints at an ironic attempt to satisfy the needs of the parolees to have human contact and understanding. Instead of dissolving the boundary between human and creation, actual and artificial, the robots’ absurd patterns of interaction seem to make this task an impossible one and end up reinforcing the binary instead. The robots are anything but humane. Like the police robots, they interact with Max only on the basis of statistics and computational logic, refusing to accept any form of explanation or justification. In fact, every time Max tries to explain something, the robot bluntly orders him to “stop talking,” symbolizing the way in which the overpopulation problem has led to the breakdown of communication. This impossibility of human connection is reiterated when the robot senses his agitation through the detection of his elevated heart rate, and automatically offers him a pill. Max is expected to create yet another boundary by disconnecting himself not only from other humans, but also from his own humanness. When Max mocks the robot’s computer voice, the robot reminds him that it is a federal offense to be abusive to a parole officer, which is ironic since the system is so abusive to humans, the beings who actually do have the capacity to suffer as a result of abuse. The scene in the parole office therefore reinforces the hierarchized binary of technology and human on Earth, and also places emphasis on both the extreme measures of authority required to manage an overpopulated society and the ways in which such a world leads to the disintegration of human connections.

Figure 5 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 5 (Blomkamp 2013)

The sense of disconnection is so extreme that Elysium itself has not only forsaken Earth to be run by technological proxies, but their security staff do not even destroy invading ships themselves. For this, they use another proxy, in this case one that is a hybrid between human and technology. The militant South African mercenary Kruger (Sharlto Copley) is the sole connecting figure between Elysium and Earth, and he simultaneously holds another intermediary position between technology and humanity due to his exoskeleton. The use of a South African actor serves as a useful marker in the film for a South African viewer to make a connection between this context and South Africa’s struggles with both segregation and xenophobia. For the citizens of Elysium, the use of Kruger and other technological aids to police the boundary between the rich and the poor is their attempt to distance themselves from the horrific reality of the violence that is required to keep such boundaries intact. It is a part of their absurdly priviledged lives that they do not have to come to terms with the cost of this boundary, for it is only by virtue of binary opposition that their lifestyles could possibly be maintained. Wealth is a relational characteristic in the sense that it is dependent on its opposite both practicallyy and logically. For one person to gain money, another has to lose it; for the category of ‘rich’ to exist, so does its opposite, ‘poor’. The fact that Kruger acts as a proxy for Secretary Delacourt (Jodie Foster) who is in charge of Elysium’s security, is visually established by the composition of their intercut closeups in the scene of his missile attack on invading ships. Whereas Delacourt polices the boundary on the side of the wealthy, Kruger does the same from the side of the poor. Figures 6 and 7 are part of a series of intercut closeups that are constructed with the characters in the same positions and both working towards the same goal. However, Kruger is dressed in a shaggy hessian coat, and is as filthy as his earthly surroundings, whereas Delacourt’s pristine silk suit, sparkling jewellery and idyllic surroundings establish her as being his visual opposite. The contradictory aspect of their interrelation is also reinforced by the fact that, in this scene, Delacourt speaks in French in calm, authoritative tones, which is associated with wealth and sophistication. Kruger, on the other hand, speaks English with a South African accent, interspersed with Afrikaans. This use of language is associated in Hollywood film with morally dubious characters such as mercenaries and criminals. Delacourt thus has a criminal double in Kruger that performs the work that she sanctions but is too beneath her to perform. The relationship between Delacourt and her proxy is thus a paradoxical one that is enacted in a tention between their mutual objectives and their opposite positions in society.

Figure 6 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 6 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 7 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 7 (Blomkamp 2013)

As mentioned before, the binary between human life as natural and technology as artificial is one of the primary themes of the film. This binary is destabilized and collapsed by the figures of Max and Kruger as hybrid figures that retain their humanity but acquire the benefits of technology through the use of exoskeletons (Figure 8). The hybridization also appears as an important question in the fact that the crux of the plot – revolutionary data stolen by and implanted in the brain of Max – also makes use of the combination of these opposing discourses. It is these two hybrid attributes of the protagonist’s position that allows him to finally collapse the ultimate border in the film – that between Earth and Elysium, poor and wealthy, sick and healthy by resetting the system of Elysium in order to render every human a citizen of the utopia. As a result of the inclusion of suffering humans, the illusion of a utopia is shattered, and reality is acknowledged once more. With this realization, it becomes clear that a utopia cannot exist, for it would have be located in a vacuum in order not to rely on exclusionary logic. The superstructure of computer logic is turned against those who invented it with the aim to exclude: the technology that was developed in order to police this boundary was the ultimate solution to collapsing it. The reset results in aid being automatically dispatched to Earth, and the humans start to regain some of their agency as the first actions of humanity start to filter through the invisible barrier. Whether or not this ending is any real solution to the lack of resources on Earth is unclear; people are still living in squalor, and Elysium can only sustain so many people. The promise of technology being used to aid all of humanity in its great numbers instead of an elite few adds an element of hope to the dubious conclusion, but not without irony. The fact that technology would be used to heal and cure the ailing will only result in longer lives, and worsen the population problem. In this sense, the promise of an Elysium – a utopian immortality – is logically impossible in any space that is real, and therefore not infinite.

Figure 8 (Blomkamp 2013)
Figure 8 (Blomkamp 2013)

Although films such as Elysium are excellent means to infiltrate the public consciousness with important issues, the written word has the added advantage of being more environmentally friendly in its production process. In J.G. Ballard’s “Billennium” the tension between the maintenance and dissolution of boundaries is literalized in the primary theme of finding privacy and agency in living space. The protagonist, John Ward, describes in detail the ways in which the pressing crowds in the city space affects his life in physical, emotional and mental ways. He describes his stint in a previous living arrangement where crowds were continuously moving past his window, and remembers how this constant movement “had reduced him to state of exhaustion” (140). When Ward and his best friend Rossiter consider going to a different food hall, they reject the idea solely on the basis that it is a little further down the street, and just moving the thirty yards from Ward’s apartment to the closest venue took them very long due to the current of moving bodies (144). This sacrifice of time in the name of moving to a new space is a common occurrence in this world; in fact, Ward notes that he spends all of his free time looking through the classifieds for a good deal on a living space (141). This introduction to the crowd makes it clear that the sheer number of people, rather than their relation to each other, is what causes the problems in this narrative. After the suburbs and countryside had been completely occupied by factories and crops to provide food for the growing population, all human life had been urbanized (146). In fact, economic competition as we know it today dissolved into a blind race for accommodation property; “the internal colonization of the city” (146).  The situation is so dire that, in an Orwellian fashion, the authorities keep the true census statistics a secret to avoid a “mass attack of claustrophobia” (145).

As in Elysium, the authorities play a significant role in the everyday lives of the members of the population, because everything needs to be carefully regulated where large numbers of people are concerned. One of these carefully controlled elements is that of living space. We usually consider living space as a very private matter; the very distinction between public and private space rests on the conceptualization of the living space as private and self-governed. In John Ward’s world, however, this boundary has collapsed. Living space is carefully administered and controlled by the “Housing Department,” which designs, certifies and licenses living cubicles (143). Ward’s own cubicle is in violation of these regulations because it is half a square metre larger than the “statutory maximum for a single person” (141). However, as it is difficult to regulate the living arrangements of millions of people, there are naturally ways to subvert this rigid control. By bending the walls of the cubicles, inhabitants manage to increase their own space at the cost of their neighbours, which causes meeker personalities to run the risk of literally being “squeezed out of existence” (141). The pressure of the competition for space acts as a literalization of the competition for resources in general in a world where there is no longer enough of anything. In order to continue existing, individuals have to develop a brutal disregard for their fellow humans, resulting in the general breakdown of genuine human interaction.

With the discussion of Elysium in terms of alienation, it became clear that society creates a dangerous boundary between individuals that separates them not only from each other, but also from themselves. Of course, Marx would tell us that this state of affairs is not unique to the overpopulated society, but of capitalist society in general (5). The difference between these states of affairs is that in the current context, everyday capitalist competition is still relatively concealed by capitalist discourse to the unexamining mind. In an overpopulated society, however, these alienating effects are taken to their logical extremes so that they become obvious, and in some cases even literalized. An example of this is Ward’s relationship with his parents. As he had lived in a municipal hospital from the age of ten, he had lost contact with his parents because they lived on the other side of the city, and they “had been unable, or unwilling, to make the journey to see him” (Ballard 145). This demonstrates that even something as intimate as the parent-child relationship deteriorates in the face of the masses, as intimacy is something that requires a private life, and Ward and his parents did not have the luxury of space within which to conduct this. Even Ward’s best friend Rossiter is kept at a distance due to the competition element. When Rossiter excitedly speaks about the above average size of Ward’s room, which he calls “enormous,” Ward instinctively denies this in order to protect himself, because “the quest for living space had forged powerful reflexes” (141).

This negative effect of competition for resources also becomes a tragic reality at the end of the story. When Ward and Rossiter discover a large, concealed room, they initially live very happily in there with two other friends. But as more people start to move in, the space lessens and lessens, and parallel to this decrease in space an increase in tension occurs. Eventually Ward is under so much strain due to the negative, competitive atmosphere in the room that he decides to move out himself. He makes this decision as he watches Rossiter dismantle a large mahogany wardrobe they had bought when they found the room in order to make more space. This wardrobe is an extended metaphor in the text not only for all the physical comforts, joys and culture that were “squeezed out of existence,” but also for the dismantling of the private and the important things it safeguarded, such as human connections, privacy, sanity, rest and peace. Ward’s final thoughts on the matter are tragic, as he comes to terms with the sense of loss he is feeling:

It had been a beautiful piece of furniture, in a way symbolising this whole private world, and the salesman at the store told him there were few like it left. For a moment Ward felt a sudden pang of regret, as he had done as a child when his father, in a moment of exasperation, had taken something away from him and he had known he would never see it again. Then he pulled himself together. It was a beautiful wardrobe, without doubt, but when it was gone it would make the room seem even larger (157).

Just as the breaking down of the wardrobe symbolizes the breaking down of the private world, it also acts as a warning against self-alienation. For a brief moment, the narrator connects with his emotional self, even his childhood self, as he remembers the feeling of loss when his father took something dear away from him. In the memory his father acts as a symbol for the masses, and system of rigid authority that compels him to make so many sacrifices. He acknowledges his grief for the briefest of moments, and then he immediately returns to his practical state of mind – the computational logic that is required to navigate large numbers of data.

Aside from Ward’s deteriorated relationship with his parents, friends and his self, other indications of the dissolve of the boundary between the private and the public arise in the text in the way that everyday activities are described. One prominent example is the fact that, in order to find some entertainment in film, crowds gather in the stadium that doubles as a cinema (140). This complex provides entertainment through the night, where people take turns to come and relax in public as they have no facilities of the kind in their living spaces. Another telling example is when Ward describes his morning routine, and he makes a passing reference to the fact that he gets up at six-thirty in order to get into the “bathroom queue” as quickly as possible (140). What makes this comment so effective is that a person’s daily bathroom routine is the utmost of private matters; the very idea of turning daily ablutions into a public affair destroys all illusions of privacy and individual life. This kind of exposure to the public creates vulnerability in the sense that, if all of one’s daily routines become subject to the rules of a larger entity or system, individual agency dwindles into nothingness. Ward even makes this effect explicit when considering moving to a different space through the crowd: “[h]aving surrendered his initiative to the dynamics of the city he was reluctant to try to win it back merely for a better cup of coffee” (145).

Like Max in Elysium, Ward is alienated from other humans, and the process happened as a direct result of his suppression by totalitarian authority. The capitalist economy sustains itself both through the creation of a surplus labour force, as discussed earlier, and through this facilitation of alienation of a person from his own kind and his own self. If the poor people cannot connect to each other enough, revolution can be avoided; if no one can find their sense of agency anymore, they will not find the will to rebel, and will comply meekly to being a cog in the machine of the labour force. This alienation is facilitated by the dissolution of the boundary between the private and the public, which increases the grasp of authority upon the individual. By hinting at the mechanisms of the creation and control of an overpopulated society, and making overt the effects of this transformation, both Elysium and “Billennium” sound warnings not against uncouth sexual practices or irresponsible family planning. Instead, these texts suggest a critical position towards the institutions of capitalist society and encourage vigilance against being caught in the trap of the machine that produces its own slaves, and then blames them for their existence.

Works Cited

Ballard, J.G. “Bilennium.” Constellations: Stories of the future, edited by Malcolm Edwards. London: Heinemann New Windmills, 1985. 140-157.

Blomkamp, N. (Dir.). Elysium. United States: Tristar, 2013.

Fletcher, R. “Barbarian hordes: The overpopulation scapegoat in international development discourse.” Third World Quarterly, 35.7(2014): 1195-1215.

Johnson, R.D. and Holbrow, C. (eds.). “Preface.” Space Settlements: A Design Study. Washington: NASA, 1977. Vii.

Kaapa, P. and Gustafsson, T. Transnational Ecocinema: Film Culture in an Era of Ecological Transformation. Bristol, Chicago: Intellect, 2013.

Marx, K. “Estranged Labour.” Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts of 1844. Moscow: Progress Publishers, 1959.


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