RoboCop, the American Jesus

#Opinion

Wed, Feb 19th, 2014 12:00 by capnasty NEWS

Geoff Manaugh of Gizmodo looks at a statement by Paul Verhoeven who referred to RoboCop as "a Christ story." And while "the confidence is both amusing and admirable," Geoff wants to know if "these comparisons really hold up".

At worst, this sounds like something you might cook up after a long night of bong hits—a resurrected man! a quest for justice! a confrontation with those who betrayed him!—and a re-viewing of Robocop with this in mind quickly becomes a futile game of spot-the-Christ-references. However, perhaps speaking only for myself, that doesn't take away from the most basic premise here, which is that we could view Robocop as Verhoeven's response to a kind of mythological or narrative challenge: retell the life, death, and resurrection of Christ (as an historical figure or a religious one, it's up to you) in a way that's relevant for our contemporary context.

The idea that someone like Verhoeven might respond to that challenge by inventing a murdered cop who is brought back to life by technical wizardry, only to walk the Earth again as a robot, is pure genius, almost hilariously so. It not only suggests an awesomely freewheeling response to an ancient storyline; it also raises the absolutely gonzo interpretive possibility that the machines and devices around us, from police drones to television sets, are able to bear religious, mythic, or theological implications. It's like the Japanese notion of Tsukumogami—that is, self-aware material objects that manage to wake up, possessed by an intelligent spirit—unexpectedly cross-wired into the Judeo-Christian tradition.

While you're at it, you should also read this review of the RoboCop reboot:

Some of the best visual jokes in the original RoboCop aren't even necessarily recognizable as jokes anymore: The embattled Detroit police wear riot armor as their standard uniform; a news ticker scrolls at eye level above the corporate office urinals. The cops drive beat-up Taurus LXs—a sly gag about the short distance between novelty and decay, replacing the dowdy, square-cornered cop car silhouette of 1987 with the sleek, desirable new jellybean shape. Soon enough, real cops were driving Tauruses, and they looked as dowdy as Dodge Diplomats.

Idiotopian satires can't help but undermine themselves. Their existence is a tribute to the attractiveness of what's being parodied: It's fun to be stupid and violent and to buy stuff. We can dread where our civilization is headed because we understand the reasons it will go there.

The process of rebooting RoboCop wiped all of this away—the anger, the comedy, and the underlying self-awareness. A movie about our world going to hell is now a movie about a cop who is part robot. A "robo-cop," if you will. Nothing more.

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