I’ve been a fan of Neill Blomkamp for a while. I think he does very interesting things in thinking about identity, and in particular the intersection between groups, even if he uses an individual’s story to do it.
Chappie tells the story of a droid, brought to life by an AI program. From there, it’s a struggle over the droid between the intellectual who created it, the gangsters who forced him to, the intellectual’s rival who wants his own droids to succeed, and the random strangers who will show him how cruel the world can be.
In a way, it’s a course in (semi-pseudo) child psychology. We see Chappie emerge fully formed, with motion and hand-eye coordination, all the things that humans take years to develop. Over the course of his limited life-span of days, we see him develop speech, and an understanding of values. One of the most touching moments, because it comes from such an odd angle, is seeing Chappie experience the horror of death – the existential angst the comes with the idea that we will all cease.
SPOILERS FROM HERE
Of course, because it’s a Blomkamp movie, Chappie ends with a powerful figure (Chappie’s creator) turned into one of the powerless (his consciousness transfigured into a droid, hiding in the backstreets from everyone who wants to destroy or capture him). It’s a striking transformation; and even though it’s one he’s done before, it isn’t old yet. Well worth it.
Perhaps it’s because Netflix streamed this for us in a very pixelated fashion, but this movie just didn’t do it for me. I have memories of reading Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? some time ago, and thinking it was one of Dick’s better pieces. I don’t think Blade Runner did it justice at all. It felt stop-start, awkward, and heavy.
The dove, particularly, felt heavy handed and unnecessary. Logistically, too, it felt implausible. In the midst of a gritty, dirty urban sprawl, he somehow catches a spotless white dove, right at the dramatic climax? Give me a break.