SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.60 issue4-2Environmental identity in the Age of Man: New perspectives on Toorbos. Part 2The vulnerability of children in the context of South African households and families author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Tydskrif vir Geesteswetenskappe

On-line version ISSN 2224-7912
Print version ISSN 0041-4751


VAN DEN BERG, Cilliers. (The) Utopia(n) and becoming (other) in Neill Blomkamp's science-fiction trilogy: District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013) and Chappie (2015). Tydskr. geesteswet. [online]. 2020, vol.60, n.4-2, pp.1164-1186. ISSN 2224-7912.

This article examines ways in which the concept of utopia or the Utopian can be related to the Deleuzian concept of becoming or becoming-other. With reference to precursors such as Thomas More and Ernst Bloch, Jameson (2007) distinguishes between utopia understood as a static and systemic program and the utopian as a dynamic process inherently linked to the ontology of being human. Whereas the former often is related to political projects and, as a consequence, with totalising and totalitarian notions of the idyllic, the latter is resistant to any attempt to fixate or map it onto political or other projects, even with the best of intentions. Deleuze, on the other hand, (often in collaboration with Guattari) theorises "becoming" as one of the seminal aspects of his ontology. Although not systematically explicated in his oeuvre, "becoming" is preferred by him to any essentialised conceptualisation of being and identity. Becoming is being, according to him, and consequently it has the continuous potential to deterritorialise any manifestation of subjective and socio-political stasis. He therefore also relates becoming to the Utopian, as it opens the doors to the dynamic flows of the ontology he subscribes to. Since science fiction often is deemed to be the literary or filmic genre best suited to explore notions of utopia and its distopian and anti-utopian variables, it seems obvious that this genre can also be used to explore the relation between utopia and becoming. Ex-South African director Neill Blomkamp has become famous for his trilogy of science fiction films consisting of District 9, Elysium and Chappie. Each of the respective films includes both a "becoming" or "becoming-other" as part of its narrative trajectory, and a notion of utopia or the utopian - whether the latter is explicitly stated as such or resides in the background of the respective narratives. The relation between utopia or the utopian and becoming can therefore be considered to represent one of the common thematic threads exhibited by the respective films. District 9 follows protagonist Wikus van de Merwe who transforms into an alien due to his exposure to alien-DNA, during the undertaking to relocate aliens, who have been stranded in Johannesburg for the past twenty years. The transformation or becoming-other of Wikus never is seen as something that includes any form of utopian potential in the Deleuzian sense of the word: the only aspiration of his that can be seen from this perspective, is his longing for a return to what he regards as a perfect past shared with his wife, i.e. an "utopian" restoration of the past. The film expounds the discrepancy between Wikus' becoming-other and this fixity of his notion of the utopian. Elysium follows the story of Max Da Costa, who is victim of a radiation accident at work and who therefore needs to travel to the utopian space habitat called Elysium, to heal himself. Outfitted with a technologically advanced exoskeleton to enhance his physical powers, he manages to open the doors of Elysium by sacrificing himself, and thereby makes its ostensibly utopian set-up a reality for all. It seems, however, that Max' becoming is nothing more than a narrative vehicle and that the utopia represented by the habitat is nothing more than an inflexible state form, which already carries the seeds ofdystopia in its core. It is only Chappie that manages to find the link between utopia, or the utopian, and Deleuze's concept of becoming. This film explores the notion of "mind-uploading" through the characters of Chappie, Deon and Yolandi and therefore approaches the idea of the post-human as a radical new potential for being human in the future. In accordance with Deleuze's understanding of both becoming and the utopian, the utopian considerations of Chappie cannot be reduced to any systemic programme to be executed, but rather is related to a dynamic ontology of change, that bodes a full range offuture possibilities.

Keywords : utopia; utopic; becoming; becoming-other; Deleuze; Jameson; Blomkamp; science fiction; District 9; Elysium; Chappie.

        · abstract in Afrikaans     · text in Afrikaans     · Afrikaans ( pdf )


Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License