Chappie – A far off future?

ChappieReview by Ros Marsden

Movie l Chappie l MA

It’s not too long ago that the cruise control in our cars, the phones in our pockets and the ability to extract money out of a wall were concepts of fantasy.  So director Neill Blonkamp’s latest movie release Chappie, about a robot implanted with emotional intelligence, may well be a concept our children and grandchildren experience.

You won’t fall asleep in Chappie. It’s jammed with action, effects and the occasional eye-closing moments of violence. Thin on character development, it’s the story of a mechanised South African police force developed by ‘Tetravaal’, a weapons’ manufacturer employing Michelle Bradley (Sigourney Weaver), Deon Wilson (Dev Patel) and Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman).  Moore is deeply jealous of Deon, after funding for his attack robot MOOSE, is cut in favour of Deon’s police force robots.

Even though inventor Deon is the favoured staff member, he is still denied permission by CEO Bradley to create a thinking, feeling prototype robot with artificial intelligence.  Frustrated, Deon steals a damaged robot to work on his vision in the secrecy of his house.  On the way home, he is intercepted by a group of gangsters who threaten to kill him unless he reprograms the stolen robot to fight and rob for them.  And so, Chappie is born; starting in a child-like state until he is trained by gangsters, Ninja, Yolandi and Amerika to become a member of their group.  Chappie’s worldly naivety makes him vulnerable and we start to see the human side of the gang of criminals who want to nurture the emotional robot.

Chappie looks on Deon as his maker and creator but it is difficult for Deon to accept that his perfect concept is learning to swear and steal under the guidance of the gangsters.   In a god-like moment, Deon commands Chappie to be peaceful and honest, but Deon is outsmarted as the gangsters learn to present their actions in ways that satisfy Chappie’s desire to please his creator.

The movie culminates in a vengeful attack by Vincent Moore after he disables the police force robots and then convinces CEO Bradley that Deon is responsible for the chaos.  Moore is sanctioned with operating his robot MOOSE to wipe out Chappie for eternity.  He possesses little humanity and behaves in robotic fashion, cleverly contrasting the empathetic kindness of the mechanical Chappie.  As humans and robot move towards a crisis of survival we are positioned to question what it is to be human.  Does flesh and blood make us human or can a robot, programmed a certain way, display a greater depth of human traits?  Can consciousness be transferred as long as we have a vessel in which it can be placed?

The possibility of our world containing robots with feelings is uncomfortably real. Chappie, for all its cartoon characteristics, makes us question the future of technology in our lives and the ability of the corrupt to use science for evil consequence.  It challenges us to examine whether we could co-exist with developed technology and whether machines with empathy are less depraved than our own human brain.  And before you think this is all crazy, would you have ever considered fifty 50 years ago that a mechanical heart was a real possibility.  Go see Chappie, it’s bound to press a button or two.

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