The critic reviews are in, and they don’t like Chappie. At least in general. Right now it’s sitting at 31% on Rotten Tomatoes, and for those that don’t know, that’s rotten.
I’ve been looking forward to this movie since I saw the previews during this year’s Super Bowl. I was taken in by the way it was filmed–something about the filter they use gives the movie a certain look I just love. Then there’s that it was a new story. I can only take so much of reboots, sequels and remakes. Sure, there’s been other movies about Artificial Intelligence, but this one was different.
If you haven’t seen District 9, well, you should. That movie blew my mind. In District 9 you were introduced to alien creatures; creatures that you didn’t like. They were grotesque and made you feel uncomfortable. Then, like a hammer on a nail, you’re hit with the realization that as the person in the audience, you’re at fault for devaluing these creatures based on superficial qualities.
We like to put ourselves on pedestals, thinking about others who are ignorant and how we’re not like that. But the fact is, we all fall prey to ignorance. It’s our pride of thinking how we’re not like that that blinds us to the reality of when we are.
Chappie takes the audience on a similar journey, but it’s much more subtle. And brilliantly, we’re able to see the connections because the main character is a robot instead of a fellow human being, much like District 9 that used aliens to drive home its point.
Children are delicate creatures. They come into this world completely ignorant, and through their spot on this planet is how they develop their own worldview.
Deon, a computer programmer and engineer from what I gathered, creates an artificial intelligence program and installs it in a robot that is scheduled to be destroyed. The robot, who we can now call Chappie, comes to “life” as an infant. Fortunately, for the sake of us in the audience, it doesn’t take Chappie as long to go through the various stages of personhood as a human. We get to see Chappie mature from an infant, to a toddler, a young child and then by the end of the movie, what I saw as an older adolescent. Whether Chappie ever matures to adulthood is uncertain given his upbringing.
What was fascinating here, and the point driven home, was how the environment of a child determines the worldview they develop. Due to unfortunate circumstances, Chappie is left in his infant stage with three people involved in a world of crime. Their goal is to use Chappie to help them successfully pull off a heist, and so two members of the crew began teaching Chappie how to act “gangsta”. You see how frightened Chappie is at first; you even get to see through the eyes of a toddler Chappie. He hides as he focuses on friendly faces, mean faces, guns, etc. You’re taken into what it must be like for a children in situations like these: to instinctively know what’s safe and what’s dangerous and yet not be able to do anything about it.
To highlight this point even further, was the man at the theater who brought his young son with him. It was fascinating to see Chappie dealing with surviving an abusive situation, and at the same time see a young child a few rows in front of me watching this grotesquely violent movie, taking in scenes he can’t possibly understand or process. What we do to children in our culture due to our own selfishness is appalling.
People of the Street
The audience is taken through this whole narrative with an unlikely group of people. This element of the movie reminded me of a book I read by John Steinbeck, Tortilla Flat. If you haven’t read this book, you should–it’s short and very enlightening. The unlikely group of people in the movie are two men and one woman who live on the streets and live a life of crime. These people could have been used just to simply move the story forward, but rather we’re taken into their world. Whereas at first we feel inclined to just write them off (yeah, yeah…some people who steal and sell drugs), the story has us really get to know them. And not in a way that pulls at the heart strings. Rather, we get to know them as human beings with all their faults, weaknesses, strengths and feelings. By the end of the movie, our lead criminal becomes a hero of sorts while a supporting character who has a legitimate job, speaks well and looks the part of a hero, becomes the villain.
Here is where I felt the sting of my own shortcomings. I was ready to reduce these people to what I saw on the outside: drugs, guns, excessive tattoos, crazy hairstyles, poor speaking skills. But people who engage in criminal activity are also human beings. Recognizing this doesn’t mean their life of crime is justified. But it does mean objectifying them is not okay. Seeing people as only heroes and villains, objectifies them. Loving people, as we’re all called to do, requires us acknowledge the WHOLE person. Anything less than that is objectification.
The Ending (SPOILER)
There’s a lot more to discuss about this movie, and people smarter than me can do that. There’s elements of playing God, the relationship between the Creator and the created, when is someone a person, etc. But due to my inability to take on these big issues, I’m going to discuss the end of the movie now.
It left much to be desired.
I thoroughly enjoyed the whole movie, and then the end came along and I was like “Whaaat?”. As an audience member you were left with way too many questions: What?, How does that work?, Um, so they’re just…?. I would have preferred an ending where Chappie learns what death is and then how to deal with that. Rather we’re given this idea of earthly immortality, and we’re all supposed to just go with that. Not to mention it completely devalues the important of our bodies. Our souls and bodies were created by God. Our bodies aren’t something to just be thrown away.
So my advice is to suspend your reasoning and logic, which we totally do for all the superhero movies anyway, and focus on the first 105 minutes of the movie. See Chappie because it will make you think. See Chappie because it’s different. See Chappie for Ninja and Yo-landi. (I knew not of this duo before seeing Chappie, and now that I do I don’t know what to do.)