District 9’s designs a science fiction world in which fantasy technology shines the light on social issues all-too-familiar. Weaponry is a pervasive theme throughout the film. The scope of weapons in the film includes guns made with human technology and guns created exclusively by aliens for aliens. Further across the spectrum is scientific technology, that of humans and that of aliens. Differences in implementation as well as lack of understanding create a wide chasm between the two groups and thus a break in potential relationship. As the film journeys along, the man character Wikus, goes through a remarkable transformation, and the choice blooms into view: maintain the distance between humans and aliens or to extend towards relationship.
The first discovery of scientific alien technology occurs when Wikus discovers Christopher Johnson’s science lab. Over 20 years, it is in this lab that the liquid was made to fuel the ship created to get the aliens home. Wikus walks in and immediately mistakes the science lab for some sort of weapons operation. What was a location of hope – hope in starting the ship to return home –Wikus mistakes for something hostile. It never occurs to Wikus that what he found could be considered anything but dangerous. To him, this kind of technology was unknown and unaccounted for, and therefore seen as a threat. Because it was not understood and feared, it was immediately scoffed at and confiscated. In ignorance, Wikus starts rummaging around and gets sprayed by the fuel, which, ironically, begins his painful transformation out of ignorance and into understanding.
An alien hand rips through Wikus’ arm, his teeth fall out, nails fall off. Dirty, disheveled, in pain, it doesn’t take long for Wikus to become totally “alien”-ated from his family and friends. He becomes intermediate, physically and emotionally. He is becoming his own enemy, literally. But a painful and unasked-for physical transformation is necessary for Wikus to bridge the gap between human and alien. He embodies this traumatizing in between state, but in no other way can he discover relationships with Christopher Johnson and his son.
In the beginning of the film, Wikus is bravely stepping foot onto the alien’s district 9 in armored cars loaded with weapons, on the defense. Now, the other side of the fence becomes his safety. The aliens he met as enemies once, become his help and friends. Christopher Johnson’s son is the only one that “likes him” and the only one that affectionately states “we are the same”. Wikus’ enemy has become his saving grace. Although the whole change is painful and often tragic, his relationship with the aliens is only possible because Wikus, though his suffering, has been cast off from his own people and thus desperate enough for safety.
And so it is the humans he is running from. They see him as the greatest “business artifact”; a biological phenomenon to exploit for their advantage. With an alien arm, Wikus can shoot alien guns and this is extremely valuable to MNU whose only focus is on extermination of the alien side. Their efforts are in no way oriented towards negotiation or reconciliation, and so Wikus is only sought after for his capacity to shoot highly sophisticated weapons. His humanity has been stripped.
Yet it is true, Wikus is valuable. He is valuable in the sense that he is able to reach a kind of relationship with aliens unlike anyone else. And it is not a coincidence that Wikus, a human, is transformed into an alien. This idea is aligned with the “Jesus of Africa” theology that God – full of love for all – favors the oppressed side. Jesus himself comes down to earth to physically transcend borders and manifest the oppressed human side. Wikus’ story too demonstrates this powerful opportunity for love. Although Wikus somewhat stumbles into his transformation, he discovers love from those he initially misunderstood. He becomes the oppressed side South African society. Christopher Johnson takes care of him, helps him in and out of MNU, and promises to change him back after 3 years time. This relationship opens Wikus up to what he never knew before, that yes, they are just the same. Both sides simply want to return home.
And hope is real in the last scene of District 9. Wikus, in fully alien form, is making a flower. He leaves it on the doorstep for his wife. It shows that although he has been completely disowned – even pronounced dead – by his friends and family, he remains affectionate towards his loved one. Through this act of affection, it is clear that he has transcended a relational boundary and continued to love the side that considers him the enemy. He becomes alien, assimilates into the alien society, but still loves his wife. Wikus has, in a little act, ended the perpetuation of hatred. There is hope that when he is brought back to human form – in 3 years – he can bring awareness and reconciliation to South Africa.