I remember watching Robocop as a kid, having to evade my mom’s natural instincts to prevent me from watching a film many deemed to be a bad influence for the youth given its extreme violence.
So on Monday I set out to watch Robocop once again at the Prince Charles Cinema (again), surrounded by a mixed crowd of artsy-hipsters-nerdy people in their twenties and early thirties. All I could remember as a kid from Robocop was the effusion of blood and skin-deep bad guys versus good guys caricatured characters.
While we were watching Peter Weller (Agent Alex Murphy) die at gun point in a horrific execution by hardened criminal I learned a valuable lesson: I need to re-watch every movie I have seen as a kid.
If all I could remember were the murders and Robocop’s suit as a kid, all I could see in this viewing, 25 years later, was the profound mirror this sci-fi movie provided our era.
Indeed, the 1987′s movie directed by Paul Verhoeven (Basic Instincts, Starship Troopers, Total Recall with Schwarzenegger) begins with a satirical news bulletin that reports South Africa getting ready to use nuclear weapons to prolong the Apartheid regime, blurring the line between cinema and reality.
Then comes the image of the city of Detroit. Once the jewel of American capitalism, industrialization and entrepreneurship à la Henry Ford, by the late 80s it is only a shadow of itself riddled by the cancer of crime, unemployment and de-industrialization in a world divided by the Cold War and permanently threatened by nuclear annihilation. Verhoeven uses satire once more as we watch an advertisement for a board game played by a happy familly called ‘Nukem,’ simulating nuclear war.
‘Robocop‘ is at its core the ugly reflection of a society afflicted by nihilism that is illustrated by rampant crime and the lack of any respect for human life by what could otherwise be a simple factory worker with strong family values. It may be no coincidence that the scene where agent Murphy dies and where Robocop fights off the gang of criminals takes place in an abandoned factory.
The movie approaches the concept of regeneration, not only since a man enforcing the law is reborn through cybernetics, but as a corporation tries to build a new modern and utopian city over old Detroit in order to erase the previous city that died with the American automobile industry.
Deindustrialization, economic crisis, privatization of public services (the Detroit Police Department is privatized to the corporation that develops and owns Robocop) and unemployment sounds familiar to your ears? It should. Minus the Soviet Union, 2012 is not so different than 1987.
Add to this dark and pessimistic vision of a society that reached a post-industrial age, is witness to the merging of the human body and technology and the moral dilemmas it raises such as to the role of technology in the increasing powers of Big Brothers and you have what Peter Weller describes as an “anthropological film that you could watch in 100 years and it would still resonate.”
Here is a video of Weller talking about Robocop and cinematography in general. His rant on driving scenes in the industry is particularly enjoyable.
For those that would like to know more about Detroit and its history, I suggest Requiem for Detroit directed by Julien Temple, a documentary about the rise and fall of the city. The soundtrack is particularly good too.
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