This is the one that is really bugging me. I don’t know if a lot of people write creatively, but assuming you all have actual lives and don’t engage in the practice of creative writing, take it from this loser (warning I’m about to geek-out): there is a difference between story and premise.

I keep reading that people are pissed-off about the (again, paraphrasing) ‘Swiss-cheese plot’ of District 9:

They never say where the aliens come from!

They never say why they came!

They never show what happens with the relocation!

They build it up and then nothing happens, that alien just leaves and we don’t know what happens!

Why didn’t the Aliens just gang up and kill everybody and conquer District 9 if they were stronger!


Ok let’s go over this:

Premise = a framework for a story – i.e., the conditions, circumstances, time, place, etc. in which the story is told.

Story = the narrative (and emotional) arc which occurs within the premise.

For some reason District 9 has people lost on this. The PREMISE is that aliens land over Johannesburg, South Africa, 20 years in the past. Nobody knows why or how they came to be stuck there. We discover the aliens, nurse them back to health, and give them the same basic low-standard of aid we “compassionate” human beings offer to all animals and peoples. There’s the usual amount of semi-integration and (attempted) cultural blending and eventually things settle into the tenuous co-existence that often forms between different races, ethnicities, religions and nations.

Is it really THAT much of a stretch, people? To believe that after 20 years – after the initial shock and awe and the preconceived notions and/or fears all wore off – that we would treat aliens stranded on our planet that much differently than the vision laid out by District 9? Is it REALLY that much of a stretch?

As for those who object to HOW the premise is introduced (via snippets of footage from news and documentary programs) – how the hell else do we accumulate information and “learn” about the world? You down at the library every night reading up? Or are you watching TV or better yet, on the internet where they have info already cut into neat little soundbites for consumption? And the info is hardly ever complete: we get it snippet by snippet, soundbite by soundbite, and try to keep it all arranged in our heads. AND WE BELIEVE WHAT SEE, MOST OF US. I couldn’t think of a better way to introduce the premise of this film than the way it was done – or how effectively media, television and perception are addressed over and over again in the story.

Speaking of the STORY in District 9 – it’s not about the aliens, guys, it’s about the emontional journey of Wikus Van De Merwe (Sharlto Copely), a man who starts out as the ultimate embodiment of bureaucratic mediocrity unjustly handed authority, who ultimately learns compassion and respect for those he once thought alien to him  after he’s forced to see the world (literally) through their eyes. That story happens within the premise, but the narrative obligation is not to answer every question raised by the premise: The job of THIS STORY was to take us on a very down-to-earth emotional arc through an alternate (but conceivable) reality. And, to his credit, Sharito Copely almost single-handedly pulls that off in a gripping and believable performance. Kudos.

Copely in District 9

I’ll also concede that District 9 didn’t reinvent the wheel with its “Walk a mile in another’s shoes” story. But it sure did overhaul the wagon that wheel goes on. Let’s face it, after Shakespeare and The Simpsons everything has pretty much been done and all great stories have been told: The trick is telling them in new ways so that the important messages they convey always stay relevant with changing times. District 9 did that pretty effectively and IMHO, pretty powerfully.

Let’s not confuse the story with the premise, people. Arguments I’m hearing about “plot holes” that never got filled in regards to where the aliens came from, why the came, what happened during the relocation – they’re all irrelevant to the story of Wikus Van De Merwe and his experiences in District 9. Those questions are all relevant to the premise, yes, and maybe in the subsequent (and inevitable) District 9 sequels we’ll learn ALL those answers. But frankly, hearing those facts won’t be nearly as compelling for me as the story of this film was.

I guess some people still haven’t learned from Lost or The Matrix Trilogy and what can go wrong when you have to have every single element of your premise – and any “lingering mysteries” surrounding it – explained at length. I guess people have forgotten where the boarder between what needs to be explained, and what can be left to the imagination, falls.

Do people even believe in imagination anymore? (Get the joke?)

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