Light Spoilers below
Neill Blomkamp is a visionary director; his films look stunning…His worlds feature a gritty, current day aesthetic …with a futuristic twist. The brilliant designs look like they should work. Neill has learned his film making craft from the best and Chappie is “business as usual” for him…and that’s a good thing.
It’s a story about a multi-national corporation (Tetravaal) backing two contradictory approaches to robotic law enforcement. Deon Wilson, played by Dev Patel, is developing an independent autonomous drone while Vincent Moore (Hugh Jackman) favours the non-intelligent, human controlled vehicle approach; Moore’s MOOSE is like a heavily armed, remotely controlled U.S. Drone. Conflict between these approaches escalates when Deon’s autonomous robotic police drone goes beyond its basic programming and becomes truly self aware…it becomes “intelligently designed” into a thinking, feeling artificial intelligence in its own right.
This is interesting timing for Chappie, given the increased buzz around driverless cars (even the Topgear guys are chatting about that one) and the cautionary note that Professor Stephen Hawking rang recently about the dangers that AI will pose to humankind in the future.
Three themes stuck out to me as i enjoyed this movie.
FIRST – Neill presents Jackman’s character Moore in an interesting way. Moore designed his MOOSE as an attack vehicle bristling with weapons – but his reasons seem to be philosophical ones…even religious ones. It seems that this guy is against all forms of artificial intelligence…presumably because…as he says to Deon’s Chappie…he is just a godless monster. In other words – God didn’t create this being…mankind did. And to Moore, that’s a bad thing.
Jackman portrays Moore as not only a religious extremist, but also as a violent war monger. He is not only frustrated at being sidelined with his out of date technology, but he is also a very dangerous individual. He is quite clearly comfortable with building machines to cause death and destruction on an industrial scale! Neill Blomkamp’s religious guy is the dangerous, violent hate filled brooding presence in his movie.
I often hear Christians being described in these terms. And I’ve always thought…where does Jesus ever teach anyone to embrace hate and violence? He doesn’t. Of course the well worn response to this is – stop selectively flicking thru the New Testament and look at the Old. God commands the Israelites to wipe out the Amalekites. Therefore God wants Christians to be hate filled and violent. So Christianity is dangerous for society. Yet this is SO far away from a balanced reading of the Bible, that it leaves the average Christian scratching their head in puzzlement.
Yes God used Israel to bring punishment to people at a single time in history, as described in the Old Testament. God encouraged Israel to enter the land promised to them, yet stolen by the occupying Caananite people. God had given the Caananites many opportunities to leave the land but they chose not to. So it was finally time to evict them. Despite the claims of Christianity’s critics…the people who were killed as Israel returned to Caanan were soldiers. Claims of Old Testament genocide misinterpret the meaning of the Old Testament text.
Further – to claim that this narrative should guide Christian behaviour today…is quite simply wrong. This argument would be like reading Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings all the way to the end when Sam and Frodo are ascending Mount Doom…about to finally throw the ring into the fire…and for Sam to suddenly stop them and saying…hang on! We need to go back to the Prancing Pony Pub right now cos we never managed to meet up with Gandalf there. What? No – that would be crazy. The story has moved on…we are past that now. in the same way…applying the Old Testament Amalekite passages to Christians today is just plain wrong.
Radicalised Christians aren’t like Blomkamp’s Vincent Moore; and they aren’t like Israelite soldiers who once fought Amalekite soldiers in Caanan. Radicalised Christians work towards increasing acts of love and kindness to all people. Thats how its supposed to work, anyway!
The SECOND theme I notice is around a complicated relationship between Chappie and his creator Deon. Unfortunately for Deon, his relationship with Chappie is disrupted by a group of gangsters, who become the family that Chappie attaches to. The sidelined Deon has got to work hard to visit with and teach Chappie the values he thinks are important. He manages to open Chappie up to the artistic and creative side of life (much to the gangster’s annoyance). He also sets moral guidelines for Chappie. And this escalates the tension in their relationship. Chappie’s gangster family want him to “do crimes”…but Chappie has promised his maker that he wont cross this line. Chappie has a moral center which is very highly tuned. His creator has so many hopes and dreams for him and Chappie finds the burden of this too much to bear sometimes…leading him to tell his creator that he hates him.
Chappie and Deon clearly misunderstand each other during much of the movie. Deon sees the danger that the gangsters are exposing Chappie to. He can see the risk of disaster and the loss of Chappie’s precious life. Yet the childlike robot does not have this perspective at all. He does not understand the risks…although he starts to learn fast.
It strikes me that perhaps this theme touches upon many people’s personal spiritual journey. When it comes to God…things get complicated. It’s the stuff that fills our lives, the choices we have made, that get in the way. And if there is a God…then surely he wants to stop us having fun. Surely he wants to impose his dull will on us? We see Chappie kick against the attempts his creator makes to connect with him…and there is alot of truth in this portrayal. It resonates.
And I’m left wondering…what if we mistakenly project our own misunderstanding of God’s motives onto God himself? What if…like Chappie…we think the creator is trying to cramp our style…when in reality his goal is to rescue us from the danger we don’t understand. The risk we are blind to is very evident to our creator. What if instead of wasting our lives, he wants us to fulfil our potential? I think there’s an aspect to Deon’s character that reflects part of God’s nurturing character towards people.
The THIRD theme is a deep one, so I’ll keep it brief. Mind/soul and body duality. Groan! Philosophy! This movie is full of the sense that, our bodies…the material stuff and my physical parts…do not fully define who I am. There is an intangible-ness to me; a consciousness. Actually this idea points to a Biblical understanding of personhood. We are composed of 3 parts; spirit, soul and body. And while one day our body will wear out…the essential center of us…our spirit and our soul…will live on in another place. Hopefully not in Blomkamp’s way (it does not look good!)
So if you enjoy science fiction, don’t mind a touch of violence (one scene is really quite bloody)…and like thinking about these themes…then I recommend Chappie.