Any way you look at it, the Elysium poster had no business being there, in an Astoria, Queens, subway stop.
The modest sci-fi hit starring Matt Damon came and left theaters six years ago, for one thing. That’s simply too long for a subway ad to elude replacement. But also, it might have made more sense had it been one of director Neill Blomkamp’s other two films. District 9 was the Oscar-nominated sci-fi allegory that put the filmmaker on the map a decade ago, and Chappie was a Zef-infected hot mess that earned an ironic pocket of fandom on the internet. Either of those options seem like more probable candidates for inspiring some MTA worker to defy destiny. But neither did: It was Elysium. And when Patrick Cotnoir noticed the poster, on August 6, it set him off on a mission that would result in one of the least necessary podcasts in the history of the form: Elysium Watch.
“I’ve lived off that stop in Astoria for over three years,” says Cotnoir, a comedy journeyman who produces shows at the UCB Theatre in New York. “I have no idea how I missed it, I’m usually pretty good at spotting those kinds of things. It was at the opposite end of the stop from where I get off, so I imagine I just never walked by it.”
Although he had never seen Elysium—or even Chappie—the oddly placed one-sheet inspired him to work some Twitter magic.
Hello. I noticed tonight that there is an almost pristine ELYSIUM poster up in my subway station. This movie came out in 2013. pic.twitter.com/BfN55opid4
— Patrick Cotnoir (@patrickcotnoir) August 7, 2019
At first it was just going to be a one-off, a single tweet to show the world the kind of seemingly tiny Matrix-glitch we all love to see. He had been down the road of tracking a subway poster’s endurance before, after all, and wasn’t sure he wanted to get back on.
The curious case of the Snowman poster
A couple years ago, the meme-generating poster for Michael Fassbender’s flop The Snowman haunted that same Astoria subway stop, even though the movie was playing nowhere nearby and was out of theaters almost immediately. Why was it there? Cotnoir began documenting the poster’s inscrutable presence with daily selfies.
Day 15: I get it. It's getting cold out. It's called the Snowman. Gotta stay on brand even though the closest theater playing the movie is 10 miles away from me. Leave em up. I don't care. pic.twitter.com/1oGzObGLeR
— Patrick Cotnoir (@patrickcotnoir) November 11, 2017
The Snowman run lasted a solid 24 days before the poster was finally removed and the whole ordeal became a blip in the forever-unfurling scroll of digital history. The producer wasn’t exactly seeking out new ways to relive his Snowman glory days, but the Elysium poster proved just too good of a find to let slip away. Cotnoir stoically resigned himself to taking selfies in front of it every day.
“I assumed it had just been uncovered and would be pasted over almost instantly. Obviously, that wasn’t the case,” Cotnoir says. “I expected, like, three or four days tops . . . Then it kept going and kept going. It got to a point recently where I was just anticipating doing this for the next few months, and I ultimately was fine with it.”
Part of the inspiration to keep going came from frequent collaborator Connor Ratliff, a comedian who has appeared on Marvelous Mrs. Maisel and The President Show. Ratliff at first just served as a support system, championing the ongoing photo series and pushing Cotnoir to keep going.
“I liked that it was a project he entered into that he had no control over,” Ratliff says. “It could end at any moment, and there was the real possibility that he could be stuck doing it for years. It felt like the kind of thing that would go through cycles where it got boring and then people would forget about it, and then a year would go by, and people would remember that he was still doing it.”
As the days went by, eclipsing Cotnoir’s 24-day Snowman run, more and more people began discovering it, the movie poster that time forgot. Elysium director Neill Blomkamp and costar Carly Pope even weighed in.
— Neill Blomkamp (@NeillBlomkamp) September 4, 2019
How “one of the lowest-fi podcasts” ever made was born
About a month into the selfie streak, Ratliff stepped off the sidelines, urging his friend to “expand the brand” by turning #ElysiumWatch into a podcast.
“I thought it would be funny if he had a podcast to supplement the visual posts on social media, and he said it would be too much work,” Ratliff says. “Then I told him to get a producer to do all the work. He then told ME to do it, so I Googled ‘easiest way to do a podcast,’ and there is an app that basically lets you do a podcast from your phone, and it is basically so easy that we had the first episode up within minutes.”
“It ended up being probably one of the lowest-fi podcasts someone has made,” Cotnoir adds.
While not quite up to Gimlet standards, Elysium Watch: The Podcast added a new dimension to the phenomenon of a poster being up in a subway station for entirely too long. Some episodes found Cotnoir taking his daily selfie, chronicling in exacting detail the cropping of the photo. One action-packed episode tracks the producer as he runs for the train, realizes it’s not actually his train, and then, well, this is a spoiler-free zone, so you’ll have to tune in to find out what happens next on that episode.
“It’s a podcast made with the least amount of effort I have ever put into anything, and if you listen to it, you can tell,” Ratliff says. “It’s a terrible podcast. I’m proud of it.”
Unfortunately, what happened next in real life was the twist that always seemed inevitable but nobody quite saw coming so soon. After 38 days, the Elysium poster came down this very morning.
The day is finally here. Please respect my privacy during this trying time. #ElysiumWatch Day 38
For any media inquiries, please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org pic.twitter.com/NxNWGMJr5r
— Patrick Cotnoir (@patrickcotnoir) September 12, 2019
Perhaps it was just the poster’s time. After six years and 38 days, an MTA employee realized the error and put up a Doc Martens poster where Elysium once proudly hung. On the other hand, perhaps the selfie series and subsequent podcast caused such an undeniable mild stir that it actually drove the MTA to act. Someone with a wild imagination might even speculate that Blomkamp himself secretly made some calls and had it removed. We may never know the answer for certain.
“I’d like to think that if Patrick hadn’t done this, an Elysium poster would have remained up in that subway station for another five years,” Ratliff says. “This is doubly poignant for me because I wear Doc Martens.”
And thus ends the journey through Elysium, mythic land where heroes thrive beyond the grave and titular inspiration for a largely forgotten Matt Damon film. Now that it’s all over, will the hero who led the way finally actually see the movie that started it all?
“I got my Elysium experience, and I don’t know if seeing the movie is going to improve that experience at all,” he says. “I feel like I don’t need to see it because . . . I lived it?”
So did we, Patrick. So did we.