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Film / Captive State

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Captive State is a 2019 science fiction drama about life under alien rule.

The year is 2027, nine years after an alien invasion that has made Earth into a vassal planet ruled by mysterious "legislators." Rarely seen, they have co-opted existing human institutions (police forces, municipal governments, etc.) to run daily life as they see fit.

In Chicago, a factory worker (Ashton Sanders), a cop (John Goodman), a prostitute (Vera Farmiga), and assorted others try to get by amid the constant surveillance, paranoia, and brutality of the alien occupation. There was a resistance, once, but now it's extinct. Maybe.

This film provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: Most of the film is set in 2027, nine years into the alien rule of Earth.
  • Alien Invasion: The film opens with one in which an alien race conquers Earth easily.
  • Almighty Janitor:
    • The prostitute turns out to be the resistance leader. What's more, prior to the invasion, she was just a school teacher.
    • Harrison Ma, the Sole Surviving Scientist of the resistance, who found a way to take out the trackers, never finished medical school due to the invasion.
  • Alternate History: The film starts in what's an alternate 2018, since the rest was 2027, nine years later.
  • And the Adventure Continues: The film ends with Mulligan revealed to be a mole in the collaborationist government and launching a suicide attack on the aliens, while Gabriel is implied to aid the Resistance. It's also shown that the Resistance extends across the US (and likely the world), with a montage of attacks and protests seen.
  • Arc Words: "Beware Greeks bearing gifts." said by Jane Doe and Mulligan. Mulligan turns out to be a Resistance spy all along, waiting until he was promoted high enough to access and destroy the Closed Zone.
  • Army of Thieves and Whores: The Resistance Cell in Chicago. For starters, the mission we see carried out by the Cell are partially made of a Goth cross-dresser who's implied to be a prostitute, a butch lesbian mechanic, a deeply religious ex-priest, and an ex-Marine. Rafe's partner is a low-class, trashy wigger.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Commissioner Igoe is aware that the Legislators are stripping Earth to the bone, and hopes to get off the planet in exchange for his service to them He does, but on a prison ship, as a result of how You Have Failed Me.
  • Black Speech: Legislator language consists of guttural clicks, shrieks, and angry howling.
  • Cool Old Guy: Eddie the priest and Rittenhouse the newspaper classified ads editor.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • Tons. The computer teletype, the print on the wall, the record player, the Blackberry, etc.
    • "Beware Greeks bearing gifts." The quote refers to the story of the Trojan Horse, which is what Mulligan turns out to be.
    • Averted in that Jurgis is shown to have bought a gun early in the movie - Gabriel complains about the money spent on it - and the gun is hidden when the police arrive and never seen again.
  • Les Collaborateurs: It's stated a vast majority of politicians around the world - from local levels to global government - have capitulated. The majority of Resistance targets are implied to be these as well.
  • Cryptic Background Reference: The band performance reenactment of First Contact. It's weird, doesn't seem to mesh with the flashes we saw early in the movie, and simply raises more questions.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: Twice. A low-class prostitute, formerly a history teacher, is revealed to have coordinated the Resistance in Chicago - and implied to have a major hand in American Resistance. This was specifically so all the politicians and government personnel who slept with her spill enough beans for the Resistance to strike targets. And after that, her partner is a police commander who has been spearheading the investigation into eliminating the Resistance... and, by eliminating them, becomes the new commissioner, and thus gets a face-to-face audience with the Legislator colony in Chicago... who don't realize he's a suicide bomber packing enough explosives to kill them all.
  • The Dreaded: The Legislators, obviously. When the human delegation is on its way to meet with them, even the translator—who, presumably, is the most familiar with them—is terrified.
  • Eyeless Face: The Legislators have these under their environment suits. Except for their round, jawless mouths, their faces are mottled, white flesh.
  • Genius Cripple: The paraplegic resistance hacker.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jane Doe allows herself to be uncovered and killed as the leader of the Resistance Cell in Chicago, so her partner will take the credit. He's thus promoted and given direct access with the aliens, permitting him to launch a suicide attack on them.
  • Hired to Hunt Himself: Mulligan is in charge of hunting down Phoenix, of which he is one of the two leaders.
  • Hoist by Their Own Petard: One of the aliens’ trump cards is an organic explosive that cannot be detected by any means by humans... or aliens. Subsequently, it’s used extensively by the Resistance.
  • Illegal Religion: Public religious displays are banned, as shown in background references such as a sign saying that praying and congregating is prohibited. This sets up a switch when one of the resistance members tells another to take something off because "you might as well wear a target". The obvious choice is the bandage covering where her tracker was, but it's the cross necklace she's wearing. It also helps explain just how many people oppose the aliens' occupation, since this would alienate the majority.
  • Imported Alien Phlebotinum: Inverted. Most modern computing technology seems to have disappeared: people call each other on pay phones, take photos with Polaroid cameras, etc. Any remaining high tech is part of the police surveillance apparatus. This is a result of the Internet being largely shut down to stifle any opposition.
  • Jack Bauer Interrogation Technique: The police use torture on captured Resistance members to get information.
  • La Résistance: Rafe is a member of a resistance cell called "Phoenix" that opposes the Legislators. It's later shown there's a national network in the US which they're a part of.
  • The Mole: Mulligan turns out to be one in the government for the Resistance.
    • And Phoenix's plan is a Thanatos Gambit to let him take credit for wiping them all out. This gets him promoted to the new Commissioner, earning him a face-to-face meeting with the Legislators, and so an opportunity to bring them a bomb.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The Legislators' underground headquarters. All we know is that getting there involves a decon shower, a breathing mask, a lonely walk along a narrow gantry, and being strapped into a tiny rocket-powered capsule that then plunges into the depths. The only concrete description we get is something along the lines of 'you won't believe what's going on down there'.
  • Ominous Mundanity: The aliens that defeated and subjugated humanity are known only as the "Legislators".
  • Organic Technology: A lot of the Legislators' technology appears to be this. For instance, the "bugs" they use as tracking implants appear to be literal bug larvae, and they also use an explosive transparent gel stated to be organic. However, their ships appear to be made of stone instead.
  • Semper Fi: Ellison, one of the Resistance leaders, is an ex-Marine.
  • Spikes of Villainy: The Roaches/Legislator's environmental suits are covered in wicked black spikes that, in a pinch, serve as self-defense weapons.
  • Suicide Attack: Mulligan launches one on the aliens in Chicago at the end, destroying their colony and setting off revolts around the globe.
  • Suicide by Sea: Implied to be the fate of Raul the truck driver after the remaining Resistance leaders are exposed.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: The various ads for the film included shots of Mulligan wearing the gas-mask setup, showing that he was going to be visiting the alien headquarters before the movie was over.
  • Twist Ending: Despite the Resistance cell's elimination, it turns out the cop spearheading the anti-Resistance operation is, in fact, a Resistance member, and suicide bombs the Legislator colony underneath Chicago, triggering widespread rebellion across the Earth.
  • Vichy Earth: It's stated the hostilities from the Legislators landing quickly ceased after the invading aliens were able to negotiate some kind of deal. Nearly all governments are cooperating with the aliens, now, with Chicago's mayoral system mostly in service to alien interests.
  • Viewers Are Geniuses: There's surprisingly little exposition, a large cast, and a lot of unanswered questions.
  • Voice of the Resistance: Downplayed, with the local DJ and the classified editor at the newspaper knowing not to publicly and obviously declare for the resistance, but delivering coded messages through classified adds and songs on the radio.
  • Wham Line: What if the plan was to fail?.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: A few rebels, including the DJ, aren’t seen on The Big Board after the resistance cell is apparently eradicated, which is one hint that it isn’t really.
  • Xanatos Gambit:
    • The Resistance Leader is a prostitute in the ghettos of Chicago. Not only are the ghettos less watched, but multiple government personnel are her johns - they don't suspect a thing from a mere sex worker, and see nothing wrong in telling her bits of what they do - enough for her to formulate plans to strike specific targets and alien infrastructure and discredit the Police Commissioner...
    • A police commander forces a man he knew as a kid - Gabe - to be a patsy against the Resistance, ranging from bugging his apartment personally to targeting his still-alive brother with imprisonment and torture, forcing Gabe to cooperate and reveal the cell leaders. As it turns out, this was the exact plan - by Gabe cracking and revealing the cell leaders, the commander is credited with taking down the Resistance AND is instated as the newest Commissioner. It's also heavily implied that the cell leaders were relying on this betrayal.
    • Government personnel are allowed to visit the Legislator colonies. With his new rank, the commander's able to enter the colony... strapped with enough plastic explosive to destroy it.
  • You Have Failed Me: After the Police Commissioner is revealed to have passed classified intelligence to the Resistance cell leader unwittingly, he's next seen along with Rafe and other prisoners who are being deported offworld.
  • Zeppelins from Another World: The strange rock-like spaceships that transfer people off-planet are very blimp-like.