Saturday, January 21, 2012

RoboCop - A Glimpse into our Future from the 1980's

The movie RoboCop starred Peter Weller and was released in 1987 under the combined genre of science-fiction and action thriller. I was about 12 years old when I saw it for the first time - young enough to be pulled into the formulaic Hero-Villain plot and yet old enough to begin to catch a glimpse of some of the more subtle (or not so subtle) undertones in the film. The first thing one notices in this film is the obvious, near-gladiatorial violence peppered throughout it. But amidst this violence there is something much deeper that is being said about society - something that director Paul Verhoeven is hinting at and that Americans were only able to see through the lens of an 1980's era movie-goer who did not believe that the bleak future portrayed would ever arrive. But that was in 1987 and now it is 2011...The premise behind the movie is that Police Officer James Murphy (played by Peter Weller) is transferred to the Metro West Police Department where cop-killing seems to be a near weekly occurrence as this region of Detroit is full of lawless villains including thieves, rapists and of course a band of drug dealing hooligans led by the brutal thug Clarence Boddicker. The Police department has come under the corporate "sponsorship" of what is known as "OCP" or Omni Consumer-Products. OCP is initially meant to offer technological support but it is soon apparent that they have much much more nefarious intentions to completely demolish Old Detroit and replace it with some new Utopian Corporate city-upon-a-hill known as "Delta City". In order for this to be accomplished crime must be wiped out so the new city can be clean and family friendly (or so we are told).

Initially Murphy is paired with Officer Anne Lewis, a female cop with a knack for whooping serious criminal ass and they quickly find themselves in the run-down industrial district chasing an obvious gang of hooligans who had just robbed a bank which marks the first introduction to Clarence Boddicker. They quickly give chase into the catacombs of post-industrial factory-land (now a familiar sight in Motor City) to apprehend the criminals. Without going into details that would otherwise ruin the plot lets just say that things did not end well for Officer Murphy on his first day on the job. His new partner seriously dropped the ball while watching a suspect, one she would have otherwise had no problem with, urinate. The end result is that Officer Murphy winds up surrounded by Boddicker's gang of hooligans and is gunned down, mafia style after having his hand shot off by Boddicker who declares "Cops don't like me, so... I don't like Cops!". Eventually Officer Murphy is shot in the head and we are left to assume the worst.

Simul-plotted, earlier in the film, at a boardroom meeting at OCP headquarters, we are introduced to one of the scariest bad guys of all time, even worse than Boddicker - OCP Vice President Dick Jones. Jones is all too eager to have Delta City patrolled by a new breed of heavily armed robotic Adat-like enforcers known as ED-209's. However things get a little out of hand during a demonstration of ED-209's capabilities whereby young corporate lackey waives a pistol at the heavily armed machine (what kind of stupid criminal would do that anyways?) and the clueless robot is unable to acknowledge that the man willingly disarmed himself on command - thus resulting in his body being pulverized by heavy machine gun fire into a bloody pulp right over a scale model of the New Delta City. The symbolism could not be more apparent - human blood will be sacrificed to the Gods (OCP) of the New Utopia (Delta City). At the end of this fiasco Dick Jones is thoroughly embarrassed and reprimanded by the CEO (nameless) for "setting the company back for months" and thus paves the way for new young-gun honcho Bob Morton, the obvious next-in-line for Jone's job. Bob Morton suggests he has a new vision for policing Delta City if only he could get the funding for his R&D team and the CEO agrees. Later on their way out, Bob Morton and his friend talk about the death of their buddy in an almost comical manner - "That's life in the big city!" declares the cocky but feckless wiseacre Morton. Eventually the two plots merge and we discover that officer Murphy's body is to be resurrected and revived with cyborg technology into....RoboCop!....

The scenes of RoboCop awakening and being trained and taken care of are visceral and and oddly accurate from a modern robotics point of view (as are other parts of the film). RoboCop sees the world as an image on a computer screen and his commands and directives appear side by side next to every image he sees. He is able to track objects and calibrate his shooting so precisely that he essentially can not miss - all the laws of physics are accounted for and all that remains is for RoboCop to query his data-base of logic and directives to "solve" every crime situation imaginable. Not surprisingly, his solution almost always comes in the form of sudden bodily harm or death to the criminal - he just has to figure out the physics and scenarios of the situation. He is the perfect commensurate police officer, gentlemen, judge and jury all in one - everything we want in a police officer in our modern world but will never get due to both the imprecision of the human mind and body as well as to the natural corruption that comes from the power of the badge. OK, on to the rest of the film.

RoboCop is eventually brought back to his old barracks in Metro West (Detroit) where he is given a car and supposedly treated as one of the officers - of course the Police Chief is suspicious but there is little he can do because OCP OWNS the police. RoboCop is therefore given free reign of the city and ordered to chase crime and fight it wherever it appears. Eventually RoboCop runs into the very same gang of thugs that nearly brought his life to an end and he is reminded that he is indeed still part human - his old memories begin to creep back and suddnely we, the viewers are left to sort out just how much of humanity is left in him. As it turns out, a lot. Later in the film the feckless, cocky Bob Morton, having offended OCP VP Dick Jones in the bathroom is visited by a certain Clarence Boddicker whom we are now shown is essentially Jone's private hit-man. Boddicker forces Morton to watch a video of the ultimate corporate psychopath, Dick Jones, lecture him before his assassination. After Morton is whacked RoboCop himself is next in line, but this task proves to be too difficult for Jones as Robocop is nearly killed by fellow cops ordered to terminate him by OCP headquarters but escapes thanks to officer Allen who has figured out RoboCop's true identity as past Officer Murphy - aka "Dead or Alive you're coming with me!"..... By the end of the film RoboCop wreaks havoc and is able to blindly serve "justice" in the form of swift death to all of Boddickers gang (Boddicker Included) and just about every other drug dealer, rapist and criminal scum in his district. Eventually RoboCop finds himself in the boardroom of OCP where he finally confronts the looney CEO with criminal evidence against VP Dick Jones who is promptly fired and thus allows RoboCop to bypass his built-in directives and "terminate" Jones' contract (watch the movie if you want more info). The viewer on the other hand gets a heavy dose of REVENGE - old fashioned cowboy style with guts-galore. However RoboCop is remarkably cool and level-headed when delivering justice -it is clearly the Director Verhoeven aiming at us the viewers who are susceptible to cheering in the death of the criminals.

What stood out most to me about this film is how accurately it displayed, in 1987, where the US was going as a nation. At one point in the film Vice President of OCP, Dick Jones goads "We practically are the military" when boasting about all the techno-wizardry available to OCP and law enforcement in this future world gone mad. One can not help but notice also that the Detroit of 2011 is quickly turning into the Detroit of RoboCop - Detroit is literally being torn apart by the weak economy with crime and lawlessness festering as we speak and one need not stretch their imagination very far to see some real-life Dick Jones declaring that it out to be torn down and replaced with some soul-sucking corporate utopia-ville paid for by the the tax-payers all in the name of a secure, clean, family-friendly, corporate-coozy clusterfuck where people can pretend once more that nothing is wrong with America....More importantly though the film suggests that in order for Delta City to be "sanitized" it must be constantly patrolled by a big-brother like, high-tech, militarized police force complete with robotic death squads ready to gun-down anyone acting even remotely "suspicious".

Many other things also stand out with this flim - for instance the fact that just about everyone at OCP is a psychopath or narcissist. When I was a young kid and saw RoboCop for the first time I was horrified by this vision of America - I took comfort in the "fact" that America was essentially a "good" country and its leaders, even the corporate one, were at the end of the day essentially decent human beings. I knew that some CEO's (emphasize some, not all) were greedy back then and that was to be expected, but psychopathic? well that was just to much for my 12 year old brain to handle. What was so frightening to me at that age was how vindictive and calculating Dick Jones was - you simply did not want to cross this man, he had everything at his disposal to deal with you. It was clear also in the film that Dick's relationship with Boddicker had criminality written all over it. Dick would essentially grant immunity to Boddicker to sell his drugs and pimp out women while constructing "Delta City" and in return Jones wold retain the rights to his services. Do such scenarios seem so outlandish in 2011? They no longer do to me.

Additionally one final topic that this film addresses that is truly frightening is our right to death - this is a topic I will explore further in future blogs. The film suggests that in the future we will not even have the right to our own peaceful death. The corporate-fascist-communist (or whatever you want to call it) state reserves the right to harvest our body, organs or EVEN our brains for its own purposes. Once claimed, we are sole property of the state/corporation and no longer individuals. That is the most horrifying aspect of this film and one that should be considered by every person who wants America to continue to be the land of the free. I hope you all enjoyed my description of this film.

Peace to all my friends, family and to beings of light on planet earth.


1 comment:

  1. Another great review of the film from a fellow independent blogger can be found here: