Saw Chappie over the weekend with a few friends. Based off the trailer, I was not sure what to expect, and the movie has been receiving, at best, very mixed reviews with most erring on the negative side.
I can understand the sentiment if you are expecting to see the same type of film as District 9. Is Chappie along the same levels as Blomkamp’s first major work? Not quite, but it is definitely far better than Elysium. I would recommend checking out this robot movie if you enjoy a bit of camp, explosions, and well shot action sequences along with your existential, philosophical questions about intelligence, agency, and what qualifies as life. In case that was not enough to convince you, here are a few lessons that can be derived from the film. As always SPOILERS ahead.
The narrative of Chappie revolves around Deon Wilson (Dev Patel), a computer engineer, creating the first legitimate artificial intelligence. Through a series of unfortunate incidents, Wilson puts his artificial intelligence program into a broken robot whose battery power will be depleted at the end of five days. In essence, the “life” that Wilson creates is subject to a very early death because of his rash planning with no foresight. In reality, Wilson creates an artificial intelligence with no real clear idea of what he is going to do with it. He is more concerned with whether or not he can create life than what the consequences of such an action could be. This is the first lesson: When dealing with other people, you can’t just fuck around with them. I know, it seems like a pretty obvious notion, but it bears repeating. You can do whatever harm you want to your own body and mind because it’s yours; however, you don’t get to make that choice for others. Wilson had no sense of responsibility or empathy when he was creating his artificial intelligence. He simply wanted to see if he could do it. What came after would be up to chance and fate. In the real world, we cannot be this callous. Well, we can, but we would be horrible human beings for it.
Once he is “born”, Chappie is pretty much a child and latches on to anything resembling a parental figure. Most of the humans around him suck at life. The only one that really tries to aid him with no agenda is Yolandi, a gangster wanna be woman who has made obviously bad life choices. Deon tries to help Chappie but more so out of need to see the progress of his creation; not because he is genuinely interested in who or what Chappie is becoming. This brings us to the next lesson: We are responsible for what we create and the dominoes that fall from said creations. We cannot simply put something out into the world and then wash our hands of what may come. We are not “watchmaker gods” fretting away in the universe. Whatever happens from our labors and works, we bear some responsibility for those consequences. They may be frivolous or foolish or immensely serious, but they are the burden of creation.
The full final arc of the film was the most intellectually interesting to me. Amid the battle sequence between robots, Chappie is answering the age old question of “What is consciousness?”. No, seriously, He finally accesses the Internet and learns everything. With this knowledge and a few PS4 systems for processing power, Chappie maps consciousness. He can map a human brain and not only acquire memories and experiences as data but can also find personality and individualism.
The amazing thing is that with all of humanity’s knowledge Chappie created a technology to help himself and his loved ones. Unfortunately, it also brings up many questions about mortality, life, choice, and death. Even worse, the movie intentionally leaves these questions utterly unanswered. Honestly, the questions that rushed into my head during this “consciousness” sequence were worth the ticket price alone. I am still a bit miffed that Blomkamp or the writers did not try to answer or state an opinion on these questions, but I understand why. This is the last lesson of the film: The big questions will probably never have answers outside of what you manage to figure out for yourself in your little corner of the world.
Thus endeth today’s lessons.